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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Coronavirus In Ohio: DeWine Plans To Limit Mass Gatherings

Gov. Mike DeWine inside the Governor's Residence in Columbus on Dec. 13, 2019.
John Minchillo
Associated Press
Gov. Mike DeWine inside the Governor's Residence in Columbus on Dec. 13, 2019.

Gov. Mike DeWine says he will issue a public order limiting mass gatherings as part of a state effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.

DeWine said at a press conference Wednesday that the order has not been drafted yet, but could come as soon as Thursday.

The order will ban spectators at major sports events, such as Cleveland Cavaliers and Columbus Blue Jackets games, as well as the upcoming NCAA March Madness tournaments in Dayton and Cleveland. DeWine said that members of the media will still be allowed to attend.

"There is a new, big, huge risk in your life," DeWine said. "You never thought it was coming. I never thought it was coming. But it's here. And you better calculate that risk."

Following DeWine's announcement, the Blue Jackets announced their home games will be closed to the public. The club has five regular season games remaining and are in contention for the NHL playoffs.

Admission to games will be limited to employees for both the home and visiting teams, media, essential team and arena employees and NHL officials.

Also on Wednesday afternoon, NCAA president Mark Emmert saidin a statement that the upcoming tournamnets would be held with "only essential staff and limited family attendance."

"While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States," Emmert wrote.

DeWine previously advisedall indoor athletic events to be held without spectators and discouraged people from attending large gatherings. The Ohio High School Athletic Association followed suit, announcing it would limit attendees at regional and state championships.

Following DeWine's announcement, the Blue Jackets announced its home games on Thursday and Saturday would be closed to the public. Only team personnel, media, NHL officials and essential staff will be allowed to attend. The team says ticket holders will receive a refund, while longstanding ticket holders will receive credits for the affected games.

The governor said Wednesday that organizations "quite frankly need" an command from the government in order to cancel their events. DeWine said he wasn't sure how long the order would last.

"Ohioans have to understand what the facts are, that any gathering of people in close proximity to each other is dangerous," DeWine said.

The NCAA men's and women's Division I basketball tournaments begin next week, with the first four game on the men's side scheduled in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday. First- and second-round games are scheduled in Cleveland on March 20 and 22.

Ohio's health department will also limit visitations at nursing homes and senior residence centers to one person per days. The facilities will be required to maintain a log of all visitors, who must have their temperature taken and undergo a health screening.

"That socialization is important," DeWine said. "So we're trying to balance this, but we also know that this is a particularly vulnerable population and we have to take rather dramatic steps to do all we can do to protect them."

DeWine said officials are not yet planning to close K-12 schools, but says if needed, his office will work with the state legislature to waive testing requirements.

Coronavirus In Ohio: Live Coverage

According to the Ohio Department of Health, there are now four confirmed cases of COVID-19. Health director Amy Acton said a 53-year-old male from Stark County tested positive despite having no travel history outside the U.S., meaning he is the first case of community spread in the state.

The patient has been hospitalized at Mercy Medical Center, and health officials are investigating a number of contacts he may have had.

"I think we're all, as citizens, coming into an increasing dawning of the situation," Acton said.

Another 24 people are being investigated, while 21 test results have come back negative.

In Cuyahoga County, three people remain in isolation at home. Acton says they're currently being monitored, and more than 100 people are being contacted about potential interactions. Six health care workers at University Hospitals are also being monitored, as are workers at Mercy.

Hours before DeWine's announcement, the World Health Organization officially declared coronavirus a global pandemic. Acton called this a "once in 50 years" situation, and said their goal is to prevent overwhelming the health care system by slowing the disease's spread.

"Look, I understand how hard this is, because we see no changes out there," DeWine said. "But the world has changed for Ohioans."

Earlier this week, the governor declared a state of emergency. Ohio State University and numerous other colleges around the state canceled in-person classes.

The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands. 
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. 
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

Ohio's coronavirus call center is open to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The hotline number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634.

This article will be updated with more information as the story develops.

Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News

Gabe Rosenberg