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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: Amy Acton Says Social Distancing Is Already 'Saving Lives'

Dr. Amy Acton, with Gov. Mike DeWine alongside, talks to reporters before the statewide coronavirus summit.
Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Dr. Amy Acton, with Gov. Mike DeWine alongside, talks to reporters before the statewide coronavirus summit.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Ohio increased by 50% as the state unveiled an upgraded dashboard with more details on the spread of the coronavirus. The Ohio Department of Health announced Thursday that 15 people have died, five more from the day before.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed to 867, a 23% increase from Wednesday's numbers. Of those testing positive, 17% are health care workers.

So far, 223 people have been hospitalized, with 91 in intensive care. The age range for those in intensive care runs from 23-92.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday said Ohio's stay at home order, which went into effect Tuesday, has helped prevent a worse crisis.

"The social distancing is buying us time," DeWine

More than 17,000 people have been tested, although Department of Health director Amy Acton says there's still a "lag time" with more results still awaited.

The state's new dashboard, unveiled at the state's daily press conference, now shows county-by-county breakdowns. For instance, the vast majority of cases and hospitalizations are in Cuyahoga County – Acton previously said that larger counties were more likely to have positive results because their hospitals are conducting more tests.

With the data being collected by the state, Acton says experts at the Cleveland Clinic and The Ohio State University have developed the first look at Ohio's coronavirus "curve." She projects that at the peak in Ohio, estimated for late April or early May, the state will see 6,000-8,000 new coronavirus cases a day.

However, Acton says the data shows that Ohio's actions so far have already lowered the number of patients coming into hospitals by 50-75%.

"Ohio, what you're doing is absolutely saving lives," Acton said.

Concerns remain amount by the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the state. Acton says without physical distancing measures, hospitals would need 65 times the normal amount of PPE, including gloves, masks and specialized respirators. While the state's efforts have lowered that number, hospitals will still need 40 times the normal amount.

Still, there's been an immediate economic impact on the state. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted reported Thursday that more than 187,000 Ohio residents filed for unemployment benefits last week, often overwhelming the state's online portal.

Husted said that unemployment benefits will be retroactive, so those having trouble accessing the website will get benefits based of their date of job loss, no matter when they file. And he said the coronavirus relief bill working its way through Congress would allow self-employed independent contractors, known as 1099 workers, to be eligible for unemployment. Ohio is already working on the guidelines so the state can carry that out when it comes.

Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News

Contact Karen at 614/578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.
Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.