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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 Spreading ‘Virtually Everywhere’ in Ohio

Ohio Department of Health

Nearly 300,000 Ohio students are unable to attend school in person right now due to the coronavirus. During his Tuesday briefing, Gov. Mike DeWine told Ohioans, “We owe it to our children, to their future, to our state’s future to fight back against this virus; to not accept this as just something that has to be.”

DeWine again repeated the mantra that has become a familiar refrain: “Wear a mask. It’s just a mask. When you think about how much people have sacrificed for this country, this isn’t a lot to ask,” DeWine said.

DeWine said at least 16 school districts around the state have, in the last two weeks, altered plans for in-person instruction because of community spread of the coronavirus. At least 50 districts are fully online right now.

He said all Ohioans should be concerned that so many students are having to receive instruction remotely. "Many of our children throughout the state just do better in school,” he said.

“We can turn this heat down and get back to a simmer instead of a flame that’s really going to come up. That flame is a direct threat to keeping our kids in school,” DeWine said.

By the numbers

The numbers shared today are following the recent trend of case growth and an increase in hospitalizations. The Ohio Department of Health reports 2,015 new cases today with a three week average of 1,559. More than 200 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. “That’s the highest number of hospitalizations ever reported and it’s over 50 more than the previous high that was back in July,” DeWine said.

Dr. Andy Thomas, chief clinical officer at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, said rural areas of the state continue to see the greatest spread. Thomas said the state’s three zones of medical care are communicating regularly to monitor the situation.

Northern Ohio is zone 1, central and southeast Ohio is zone 2, and southwest Ohio including Dayton and Cincinnati are in zone 3, which Thomas said is currently seeing the highest rates of hospitalization since the pandemic began. During the summer they saw barely 300 patients. Right now they’re in the range of 370.

Thomas said that while hospitals are treating more patients, they all feel right now they can manage the capacity. “The concern we have is we’re not seeing the cases peak and the hospitalizations peak,” Thomas said. “Until we know where the peak of that curve is, it’s a little anxiety-provoking. At this point we don’t know where it’s going to top out.”

One county's effort

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said he's been contacting Ohio counties where the virus is spreading rapidly. Currently 69 of Ohio's 88 counties are designated as areas of high incidence, meaning they're experiencing more than 100 cases per 100,000 population. Husted says many Ohio counties are seeing 300 to 400 cases per 100,000.

In Jackson County in southern Ohio, there are 333 cases per 100,000. Husted highlighted the county's efforts to coordinate response with a weekly phone call involving leaders from around the county. "Everybody has the ability to be a leader in helping to slow the spread," he said.

Husted also said the Ohio High School Athletic Association has employed observers to monitor compliance with safety protocols at athletic events. He said the most frequent complaint involved students and student-athletes reacting to a moment in the game. "Somebody scores a touchdown or makes a great play and in their enthusiasm they're congregating and getting close together," he said. "You gotta try to control that. You can't allow that to happen."

Help for small businesses

Noting that some small businesses have closed and others are barely hanging on, DeWine announced the Bureau of Workers Compensation will again provide a dividend rebate for Ohio businesses. Checks totaling $1.3 billion will begin to be distributed later this week. DeWine credited prudent fiscal management by the BWC that has allowed it to return these dollars.

He also said that he's working with the state legislature on additional help for struggling Ohioans from CARES act funds. An announcement about that is expected later this week.

Making plans for vaccine

DeWine also announced that the state has submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. The plan will be made public online Wednesday (see the draft below).

The state will also launch a registration tool where healthcare providers can sign up to be able to administer the vaccine. "This allows us to be better prepared and respond quickly when a vaccine is available," DeWine said.

The state is also launching an online dashboard with information about long term care facilities that will allow people to know the visitation status at each facility.

Copyright 2020 WKSU

A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.