Gov. Mike DeWine announced that Ohio's nursing homes will be allowed to have outdoor visitors again, beginning July 20. It will be the first time in four months that many long-term care residents will be able to see family members in person.
Ohio banned visitors at nursing homes on March 12, early into its pandemic response, over concerns about the heightened danger of COVID-19 to elderly populations. Ohio Department of Health statistics show that long-term care residents currently make up the majority of the state's coronavirus-related deaths.
But DeWine says he's heard from family members and experts on how the prolonged loss of contact can have a detrimental effect on the mental and physical health of residents. In particular, he talked about how family members are seeing their loved ones with dementia "going downhill."
"I think some of the most gut-wrenching things are when I hear from families who have someone in a nursing home, who are not able to visit with them," DeWine said at a briefing Monday afternoon.
Visitations were allowed again in early June at assisted living facilities and homes for people with developmental disabilities. DeWine says that the resuming of visitations will be "very carefully done."
"Visits by family members to nursing homes, to their loved ones, is certainly something that adds value to life," DeWine said.
With the assistance of the Ohio National Guard, the state is currently in the process of testing every nursing home, and will continue to regularly test staffers after visitations resume. National Guard Adjutant General John Harris III says his members have already tested over 25,000 people in 285 facilities.
DeWine's latest reopening move comes as Ohio continues to see increases in new coronavirus cases. On Monday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 737 new coronavirus cases and 11 more deaths, for a total of 51,046 cases and 2,818 deaths since the pandemic began. A total of 7,746 people have been hospitalized, up 65 from Sunday, with 1,961 admitted into the ICU.
Ohio has significantly increased testing over the past few months, but the governor says the surge of new cases isn't entirely because of that surge in tests. As evidence, he cited Ohio's positivity rate, the percentage of tests that come back positive, which currently sits just above 4%. Instead of going down as the state expanded testing beyond people with symptoms and groups of highest concern, the positivity rate remained steady.
DeWine also said last week's hospitalization trends were "significant," while reiterating that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator of the disease's spread. The period of June 21-27 was the first week in over two months that Ohio reported increased COVID-19 hospital utilization.
In particular, he pointed out the areas of Hamilton County, around Cincinnati, and Montgomery County, around Dayton, as hotspots. Hamilton County went from an average of 30 cases per day per 100,000 people at the end of May, to an average of 100 cases this week. During the same time period, Montgomery County went from 10 cases per day per 100,000 to 40 cases.
DeWine says that his administration is still working on plans to help schools reopen in the fall, which he plans to detail on Thursday. That day will also bring more information on the state's next phase in reopening, including new plans for dealing with social distancing and a possible change to the existing ban of gatherings of more than 10 people.
In the meantime, DeWine says he will extend existing health orders, some of which were set to expire July 1, through the end of the week.