Ohio's Department of Health has banned "mass gatherings" of over 100 people in Ohio, while the state suspends schools for three weeks to stop the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.
Gov. Mike DeWine says public, private and charter K-12 schools will be placed on an "extended spring break." That order will begin after classes end on Monday, March 16, and extend at least until April 3.
"This action is not an action I took lightly," DeWine said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. "We have to take this action. We have to do everything we can to have an interruption, we have to do everything we can to slow down the spread of this virus."
Daycare centers and home-based childcare providers are not included in the extended break.
DeWine said that while the risk of death for children is low, they can still act as carriers for coronavirus. He acknowledged that taking care of children at a momet's notice will be more difficult for some parents, but "we have a responsibility to save lives."
The governor says his administration is working to make sure that food services and other resources for children will continue. Health Department director Amy Acton called on businesses and philanthropies to help meet the needs of the community.
"We have wonderful backpack programs that are often, when kids are on spring break, when winter break, during the summer, we have non-profits that already do things to help these kids," Acton said. "Let's get them involved now."
DeWine said state testing may be canceled if needed. He and Acton both admitted that taking decisive action may require breaking rules.
"We're going to do what we have to do, and ask forgiveness later," DeWine said.
According to the mass gatherings order, signed by Acton on Thursdy, banned events include parades, fairs and festivals as well as events in stadiums, auditoriums, conference rooms, meeting halls and theaters.
Sports events without spectators, as DeWine previously urged, will be allowed to continue. It also does not apply to religious meetings, airports and other transit centers, work places like offices or factories, weddings, funerals or restaurants.
The ban takes effect immediately and remains in place until the governor rescinds the state of emergency.
"We are all in this together, whether we like it or not," DeWine said. "We have to take care of each other."
DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted emphasized that Election Day polling places will not be affected by the gathering ban, and encourage volunteers to sign up as poll workers. Ohio's primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, March 17.
"Voting does not meet the definition of a mass gathering," Husted said.
A fifth case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the state Thursday. DeWine said the patient, a 55-year-old male from Trumpbull County with no travel history outside of Ohio, has been hospitalized.
The health department reports 52 people are awaiting test results, and 30 have tested negative. But DeWine said those numbers likely don't reflect the reality of the outbreak.
"We believe this is, in all likelihood, throughout the state of Ohio," DeWine said. "These numbers will grow.”
Acton said the outbreak may peak in late April or mid-May. Coronavirus doubles every six days, Acton explains, and more people staying at home will stop the trajectory of the disease.
In addition to the ban on mass gatherings, visitors will now be banned at Ohio's psychiatric hospitals and may be further restricted at nursing homes.
Ohio's coronavirus call center, which was located in the basement of the Ohio Department of Health, has been moved to a new location after DeWine expressed concerns about the cramped space.
DeWine teased the mass gathering order on Thursday, saying that organizations "quite frankly need" an command from the government in order to cancel their events.
The NHL, MLB, NBA and MLS all suspended their regular seasons after a Utah Jazz basketball player tested positive for COVID-19. Previously scheduled Columbus Blue Jackets, Columbus Crew, Cleveland Cavaliers, FC Cincinnati, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Browns games are all affected.
The NCAA's March Madness basketball tournaments, which included games in Dayton and Cleveland, will be canceled as well.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association postponed state tournaments, while Ohio State University canceled its spring football game and restricted spectators for the remainder of the school year.
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.