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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 Extends Stay-At-Home Order Until May 1

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.

Ohio has extended its stay-at-home order, including the ban on non-essential businesses, until May 1. 

Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton signed the order Thursday at the state's daily coronavirus press conference.

The original March 22 order only lasted to this coming Monday, April 6. The new order kicks into effect that night, and lines up with the governor's previous order extending school closures until May 1.

"I'm convinced that what we're doing is saving lives. I know it's saving lives. All the evidence shows that it's saving lives. We're doing well," Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday. "But we've got to keep this monster down. He's not dead. He's very much alive."

DeWine said the essential business order has been "refined" to address safety concerns and confusion.

Among the changes are the creation of a dispute resolution panel, which will help standardize enforcement of business restrictions across the state.

"This will be in cases where similar, very similar, businesses are being treated differently in different counties, or under different health districts," DeWine said.

The Ohio Department of Health will now require retail businesses to establish and publicly post a limit of people who are allowed inside at one time. DeWine says the order will not specify a particular number, which should be determined by size and staffing, but the limit must be enforced by business owners.

While state parks will remain open under the extended order, Ohio Department of Natural Resources director Mary Mertz is empowered to take action if social distance isn't being observed.

"We all need to get out, we all want places to go, so we don't want to shut down our state parks," DeWine said. "

Campgrounds, public swimming pools and day camps will be closed, and organized sports are no longer allowed. Wedding ceremonies still remain exempt from the mass gathering ban, but must now limit receptions to 10 people.

Ohio is also asking people who travel to the state to quarantine for 14 days.

"My biggest worry is that, in the quiet before the storm, we forget about how important all of our choices are," Acton cautioned.

The peak of Ohio's outbreak isn't expected to hit until late April or the middle of May, during which officials say the state may see as many as 10,000 new coronavirus cases per day. If that happens, Acton says outbreaks may continue well into June.

DeWine this week said it's likely schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year. Standardized testing requirements have already been suspended by Ohio General Assembly.

"We're pretty sure there's no way we're going to be out of this by then," DeWine said.

Ohio's Department of Health on Thursday reported that 81 people have died from COVID-19. The state now has 2,902 confirmed cases in 75 counties; 802 people have been hospitalized and 260 admitted into the ICU.

However, due to limited testing capabilities, those numbers still don't come close to capturing the spread of the coronavirus in Ohio.

"Everything about this lags a couple of weeks behind," Acton says.

Earlier this week, President Trump extended the federal guidelines for social distancing until April 30. The White House's coronavirus response team on Tuesday predicted that 100,000 or more Americans may die in the coming months.

Nationally, the number of coronavirus cases has reached 200,000, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Ohio's business closures have taken a financial toll on the state. On Thursday, the Department of Jobs and Family Services reported that 468,414 Ohio residents have been added to the unemployment rolls in just the last two weeks - more than the total number of jobless claims in all of 2019.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted says the department plans to add 1,000 employees to their call center to help process claims. The state's unemployment website has been dogged by technical problems, and has been working to bulk up its tech capacity.

Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News

Gabe Rosenberg