Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday characterized the partial reopening of Ohio’s economy as a necessity, trying to strike a balance with coronavirus precautions as the state surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Late Thursday, state Health Director Dr. Amy Action signed a safety order imposing restrictions and precautions required during Ohio’s phased-in reopening of businesses, leading to retail and service business openings on May 12.
“The end [of the shutdown] is in sight. We see daylight. Not the end of the virus, but I hope the ability to get back to normal,” DeWine said. “We are on a responsible pathway.”
The order extends through May 29 and continues earlier travel and shelter-at-home restrictions while allowing Ohioans to commute to reopening workplaces and shop again when stores reopen their doors while restricting capacity.
DeWine called on Ohioans not to “fixate” on the May 29 date, saying things will change, and open up, as the month progresses — with talks continuing with representatives of business sectors still closed, like dine-in restaurants, hair salons and barber shops.
“Some of these will come fairly quickly” in reopening once best practices are determined and approved, the governor said, adding he wants the roll-out to proceed and avoid backtracking with closures if virus cases spike.
DeWine said businesses must win public confidence “in order for businesses to come back and make it” as they reopen by showing a commitment to virus precautions.
“The name is important – Stay Safe Ohio,” he said of the title of the order. “It’s not a stay-at-home order. We’ve reached a new stage, that’s good for everybody. But, it doesn’t mean the virus has gone away.”
His description of the document as “not a stay-at-home order,” however, contradicted a section that states, aside from outlined exceptions, “all individuals currently living within the State of Ohio are to stay at home or in their place of residence” while Stay Safe Ohio is in effect.
A stay-at-home order was issued more than seven weeks ago, and it is credited with depressing the spread of coronavirus and preventing cases from overwhelming the medical system.
“We know there are people hurting out there,” DeWine said of the unemployed and others. “That’s why they are pushing to get us open just as fast as we can. We have to balance public safety, but at the same time we know we want to open things up.”
One provision that had not been disclosed until the issuance of the new order: Previously closed retail stores and service businesses can reopen beginning Saturday only for curbside pickup and delivery of orders and appointment-only service restricted to 10 customers at a time.
First to open on Friday were dental offices and veterinary clinics, with outpatient elective surgeries and procedures again permitted.
Masks or face coverings are required of employees in workplaces and stores, but are only encouraged for shoppers and visitors. Employers and stores also must follow six-foot social distancing and check employees’ health daily, with temperature checks recommended.
Cases rise, tests awaited
Ohio has recorded 1,002 coronavirus deaths, according to data posted Friday by the state Department of Health. The statewide count of coronavirus cases grew to 18,743, an increase of 4% from Wednesday. The cases include 3,634 cumulative hospitalizations.
With more testing in nursing homes and long-term care centers uncovering a flood of cases, Ohio has been unable to meet federal reopening guidelines calling for two weeks of declining numbers.
Phase-one federal reopening guidelines for the states call for “ability to quickly set up safe and efficient screening and testing sites for symptomatic individuals and trace contacts of COVID+ results.”
Testing in Ohio has trailed most states. Through Thursday, 139,725 virus tests had been conducted — about 1.2% of Ohio’s population of nearly 11.7 million. About 13.5% of tests have returned positive for coronavirus.
DeWine announced a week ago that testing would escalate beginning this past Wednesday to 7,200 each day — double prior numbers — and ultimately increase to 22,000 a day by late this month.
Increased Ohio-produced supplies of testing swabs and reagent — the chemical solution used to analyze samples — underlay the increase in testing in labs with previously untapped testing capacity.
With testing currently focused on those most at risk, including health care workers and nursing home residents, the state soon will begin random sampling to check on the spread of the virus, officials said.
By the numbers
Here are the latest local case numbers provided by the state (unless otherwise noted):
Summit: Two new deaths reported. According to Summit County Public Health, there are 656 total coronavirus cases — an increase of 35 since Wednesday — with 242 cumulative hospitalizations and 48 deaths. A total of 144 cases, or 23%, are people employed in health care. The overall cases include 174 people, or 26.5%, residing in long-term care; among those, 28 people have died.
Stark: One new death reported. A total of 363 cases (16 new), 91 cumulative hospitalizations and 51 deaths.
Portage: One new death reported. A total of 237 cases (one new), 65 cumulative hospitalizations, 41 deaths.
Wayne: Two new deaths reported. A total of 143 cases (15 new), 22 cumulative hospitalizations and 30 deaths.
Medina: No new deaths reported. A total of 171 cases (four new), 44 cumulative hospitalizations and 15 deaths.
Ashland: Seven cases, one hospitalization, no deaths.
Holmes: Six cases, two hospitalizations, one death.
Tuscarawas: 94 cases (20 new), 11 hospitalizations, no deaths.
Deaths per capita
Cases by county
Cases per capita by county