With only about five weeks of classes left — and coronavirus a still-present threat — Gov. Mike DeWine surprised few on Monday when he ordered K-12 classrooms closed for the remainder of the school year.
DeWine’s announcement came the same day that state prison officials announced an explosion of cases at a second institution amid testing of every inmate.
The decision to keep schools shuttered, the governor said, was a tough but necessary decision to ensure the safety of schoolchildren, teachers and others amid the pandemic, even as Ohio plans the gradual reopening of its economy on May 1. The White House’s reopening guidelines called for keeping schools closed in the first phase of reopenings.
Schools in Ohio were first shut down effective March 17, with the closures then extended through May 1 to accompany a stay-at-home order. Physical classrooms now will remain shuttered to nearly 1.7 million schoolchildren across Ohio until at least next school year.
“Most superintendents I have spoken with regularly over the past month agree” that DeWine did the right thing, Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James said Monday after the governor’s announcement. “We see far too many unavoidable complications that would face us on school buses, in cafeterias, in hallways, classrooms and elsewhere. Online learning is in place; our focus needs to stay there."
DeWine said no call has been made on reopening schools in the fall.
“We have to think about the risk to teachers, students and our communities,” the governor said, adding it was best with only weeks left in the school year to continue remote learning.
“Teachers have done an amazing job” with distance education, DeWine said. “Everybody’s stepped up ... to bring the best education they can to our kids under unusual and difficult circumstances.”
The state still must determine how to best protect special-needs and medically fragile children before considering a classroom return, the governor said while expressing hope that internet availability can be expanded for pupils who don’t have access at home for their lessons.
DeWine said he regrets the loss of year-end traditions, such as spring sports and proms for older students and high school seniors who don’t know what awaits them in the fall at college.
Still, Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said the group “fully supports” DeWine's decision.
That doesn't mean the situation is ideal, DiMauro said. The other major educators union, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, also opposes the reopening of schools.
“School buildings are closed, but schools are not closed,” he said. “Educators have been working harder than I think any of us have ever worked in our lives to make sure that learning is continuing.”
The question remains how keeping schools closed will affect parents who might return to their jobs in phases beginning a week from Friday. DeWine said the state is not ready to reopen larger day care centers for children.
The Ohio Department of Health also reported Monday more than 500 people have died from COVID-19 across Ohio as total cases grew by another 11 percent. There are 12,919 confirmed and probable cases with 509 deaths, an increase of 38 from Sunday’s report.
Most of the new cases in recent days have involved inmates in state prisons.
Marion County, home to a hard-hit state prison, reported 239 more cases on Monday and Pickaway County recorded 769 more cases apparently tied to its main state prison. Subtracting those two counties, cases increased 309 statewide.
Consecutive daily increases of more than 1,100 over the weekend were driven by Marion Correctional Institution, which the New York Times ranks as the largest single-site outbreak in the nation. The prison confirmed 1,463 new inmate cases on Saturday and Sunday.
The statewide increase of 1,818 cases among all inmates and staff at all state prisons over the two-day weekend accounted for 73% of all new cases.
Here’s a county breakdown for Northeast Ohio:
Summit: Six new deaths were reported for a total of 27, the most in the Akron-Canton region. There are 371 total cases and 161 cumulative hospitalizations. As of Monday, at least 13 deaths involved long-term care patients, Summit County Public Health reported.
Stark: One new death pushed stark to 25 deaths. There are 237 cases and 60 cumulative hospitalizations.
Portage: Remains at 24 deaths with 180 cases and 49 cumulative hospitalizations. As of Wednesday, at least 17 deaths involved long-term care patients. Now ranks eighth in Ohio for deaths, but fourth for per capita cases.
Wayne: Two new deaths pushed the county’s total to 14 from 81 cases and 15 hospitalizations.
Ashland: Five cases and one hospitalization.
Holmes: Reported its first death Monday from four cases.
Tucarawas: 32 cases with seven hospitalizations.
The numbers have bobbed up and down but generally have flatlined during April. They have not, however, shown any steady downward trend.
“We’re going to see bumps” associated with localized outbreaks, said Dr. Amy Acton, the state’s health director.
State officials point out that increased testing — while still not sufficient in numbers — is detecting more cases. The state is “building an army” of people to trace, warn and test those who had contact with a confirmed virus patient, Acton said.
Suggested guidelines for first-phase reopening of the states by the Trump administration are based on a downward trajectory of virus cases over two weeks or positive test results falling as a percentage of all testing over 14 days.
Asked about meeting the federal guidelines, DeWine said, “We’re going to monitor it and be very careful. We want to do it right. We think it is consistent with what the president has laid out.”
DeWine and Acton have expressed concern about the lack of expanded testing to detect and isolate carriers and early onset virus victims as some workplaces and businesses prepare to reopen a week from Friday.
DeWine also addressed the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on African Americans across Ohio.
“It’s very concerning,” DeWine said of blacks comprising at least 21% of coronavirus cases while constituting about 13% to 14% of Ohio’s population. He appointed a “minority health strike force,” a working group, to find ways to reduce virus numbers among African Americans.
DeWine cautioned that the gradual reopening of Ohio could be scaled back if virus cases spike and begin to overwhelm the hospital system.
Those who can work from home will be asked to continue to do so. Social distancing at work and in stores will remain the norm. People are being asked to continue to wear masks to help protect others in case they are an unknowing virus carrier.
Workplaces will be asked to check employees’ temperatures and conduct health checks prior to allowing them to work and regularly sanitize worker and customer areas.
The types of businesses that will be allowed to open their doors again to employees and customers is not expected to include dine-in service at restaurants and bars.
And mass gatherings, such as concerts and sporting events, are expected to be among the last vestiges of regular life to be permitted, even with limits on the numbers allowed to attend.
Protesters have grown increasingly upset about the shutdown, with another demonstration drawing hundreds to Capital Square on Monday to demand that DeWine lift orders and reopen the state.
They carried signs proclaiming “All jobs are essential.” “Fear is the real virus! Gov’t is spreading it!” “The cure is deadlier than the disease.”
The protest drew people from around the state and from a cross section of groups that included Second Amendment activists, opponents of vaccines and anti-abortion advocates.
Anti-Semitic signs that appeared in the protests over the weekend didn’t resurface on Monday, and organizers on Monday distanced themselves from those who had carried them.
Deaths per capita
Cases by county
Cases per capita by county