COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday the ongoing surge of COVID-19 spread in Ohio puts in-person schooling “at stake” if the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, which set new records this week, continue to rise.
What You Need To Know
- The state reported more than 2,000 cases again Tuesday
- Ohio set a new record for new hospitalizations and for the total number currently hospitalized
- DeWine said he does not plan to issue statewide restrictions on schools at this time
“We can turn this heat down. And we can get back to a simmer of this virus instead of a flame starting to really coming up,” DeWine said at his press briefing. “That flame is a direct threat to keeping our kids in schools.”
The governor reported grim numbers Tuesday, sharing 216 new COVID-19 hospitalizations occurred in the last 24 hours—the state’s largest daily increase so far in the pandemic, while the total number of hospitalized patients soared to a new record of 1,221 Ohioians receiving hospital care for the virus.
“We know as this virus rises, and really there’s this red tide going all the way across Ohio, that a lot of things are at stake. Peoples lives are at stake. We worry about our hospitals starting to fill up. We worry about long-term damage that people might have,” he said. “But as I go through the statistics today, I want to ask you to think about something else that is clearly at stake, and that is whether our kids can be at school.”
Due to the worsening spread of the virus, some schools have switched from in-person learning to hybrid models, or switched from hybrid models to fully remote learning. In the last two weeks, 16 districts have scaled back their learning models, DeWine said.
DeWine said it should concern all Ohioans that so many schools are online, an environment that is less conducive to effective learning for many students, especially for Ohio children in poor households.
Asked if he might take statewide action on schools to slow the spread of the virus, DeWine said there is a better option: Everyone wearing a mask. For now, he will leave decisions to the schools, he said, but he expects more districts will scale back in-person learning if the discouraging trends continue.
Tuesday’s COVID-19 report marked yet another day with more than 2,000 new cases. Not long ago, the state was reporting around 1,000 cases and the numbers were trending downward, DeWine said.
The state saw another 36 patients enter ICU care in the last 24 hours, he said. Sharing county-by-county case occurrence, DeWine said some counties are seeing “literally shocking numbers.”
The Midwest has become the latest hotspot of the coronavirus pandemic. As states including Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois also report record numbers, DeWine said contact tracers are seeing cases enter Ohio from those neighboring states. But community spread is the driving force of the state's outbreak deteriorating, and DeWine said residents traveling within the state between counties are also contributing to worsening spread of the virus. Officials are particularly concerned about spread at family gatherings where Ohioans take off their masks for shared meals indoors.
Chief Clinical Officer for Ohio State Wexner Medical Center Dr. Andrew Thomas, who is responsible for overseeing hospital preparedness in Zone 2, which includes central Ohio and southeast Ohio, said hospitalizations are up across the state and are at a record level in southwest Ohio, which is Zone 3. In Zone 2, which is at the highest rate for hospitalizations since early May, the problem is especially bad in rural southeast Ohio, he said. The state’s hotspots have shifted from urban areas to rural areas as the pandemic has progressed. A map of the state's three zones can be viewed below:
“At this point we just don’t know where it’s going to top out,” Thomas said of the hospitalization trends.
For now, the state has sufficient capacity to treat everyone and could handle a further surge, he said. But officials are concerned by the direction hospitalizations are headed, which will eventually force hospitals to make difficult decisions if the trend continues, he said.
Hospital officials are in constant communication with each other regard to bed availability, Thomas said. When possible, patients are receiving care close to home, but as rural hotspots emerge and when rural patients need specialized care they are being transferred to the state’s largest hospitals in urban areas.
DeWine remained optimistic Ohioans can take more responsibility and kick the third wave of the virus that is sweeping through the state.
John Palmer, director of public affairs for the Ohio Hospital Association, said the organization has been tracking hospitalization since March. Hospital activity in the last couple weeks has been the most concerning so far. He said the state has sufficient capacity for now, but Ohio should not push its luck nearing a breaking point that would strain hospitals when residents can act now to slow the spread before it is too late.
“Hospitals, beds, ventilators, staffing – they can be strained immediately if the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies. So it's definitely not a scenario we want to be in in Ohio,” he said in an interview. “Any kind of hotspot, whether it's in one particular area or several areas, it really burdens the entire health care system.”
“These numbers will not change unless we change,” DeWine said.
After taking criticism for attending a close-quarters rally held by President Donald Trump in September, despite DeWine's calls for Ohioans to avoid congregating, the governor said he will not be in attendance at Vice President Mike Pence’s Wednesday rally in Cincinnati. Neither will Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.
This week Ohio submitted its plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to administer COVID-19 vaccines early on while the availability of shots is limited. Pfizer and Moderna plan to apply for emergency use authorizations in late November and millions of Americans could get vaccinated shortly thereafter.
Frontline health care workers will be first to get the vaccine, and more groups will become eligible as availability expands. DeWine said the state wants to be ready to go when the vaccine is available. In California, on the other hand, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state will conduct its own review of any vaccine that get approved, potentially creating a brief delay after the Food and Drug Administration’s approval before residents can get the vaccine.