Gov. DeWine on coronavirus: Now is time to slow the spread, save lives

In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday asked colleges and universities to hold classes online, organizers of indoor sporting events — including NCAA March Madness games — to ban spectators, communities to cancel parades and other large gatherings and nursing homes to carefully screen visitors.

DeWine said these are “strong recommendations” at this point and no decision has been made on if or when state and local public health officials will issue legal orders to block spectators at games.

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DeWine halted all visits at Ohio’s 27 adult prisons and three youth detention facilities and said the Buckeye Sheriffs’ Association would be issuing guidance on jail visitors.

While Ohio has just three confirmed cases of the coronavirus, COVID-19, DeWine said aggressive steps are needed to slow the spread so that the health care system isn’t overwhelmed and vulnerable people are protected.

Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said there’s going to be community spread of the virus, but the question is how small they can make that spread.

“And that means how many lives can we save? How many people can we prevent from being ill? How much can we prevent an undue burden on our health care system? Every step we’re taking now makes a difference,”she said.

Acton said collective action by individual people is needed for the common good. Choices made by individuals, such as going through a drive-through instead of inside a restaurant, may help keep their family members but also keep strangers healthy, Acton said.

“My not getting sick is going to keep two to three other people from getting sick and that is logarithmic — each of those people can help two to three more,” Acton said.

The majority of people who are sick from the coronavirus outbreak have mild cases. At the same time, from what health experts can tell so far, the coronavirus has a higher rate of severe cases. The rate is particularly high for older adults.

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DeWine, who has put public health as a cornerstone of his administration, said “Every action each of us takes can and will help save lives. Lives of our children, our families and our communities.”

Here are DeWine’s recommendations:

SPORTS: The Ohio High School Athletic Association, the National Collegiate Athletics Association and professional sports teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Columbus Blue Jackets, should voluntarily ban spectators at indoor events. Only parents and essential personnel should be allowed into the sporting events.

EDUCATION: Public and private two- and four-year colleges and universities should move toward remote learning and online classes as well as carefully screen all students returning from spring break if they've been on cruises or to certain countries. Travel should be restricted and large gatherings canceled. K-12 school districts should plan for potential shutdowns in the future.

GATHERINGS: Large gatherings of people, such as tailgate parties outside games or parades, should be canceled.

Places of worship should discontinue shaking hands and distributing communion wine.

INDIVIDUALS: If possible, avoid crowds and handshakes and work from home. Regularly wash hands, disinfect high-touch areas such as door knobs, sneeze or cough into tissues or sleeves. Stay home if you're sick. DeWine said the recommendations are based on advice from medical experts, what is happening with the outbreak in other countries and previous pandemics.

“You’re not stopping it from coming in but you’re slowing it down. Our goal is to dramatically slow down the spread, thus saving lives,” the governor said.

“We don’t want to look back and say ‘Oh, my God, we could have saved a bunch of lives but we didn’t learn from history.’”

These are recommendations, not orders.

DeWine said they hope people will heed the advice of the experts. The situation continues to evolve by the day, state officials said.

On Monday, DeWine announced that three Ohioans from Cuyahoga County tested positive for coronavirus. He declared a state of emergency as a result.

Fifteen people are awaiting test results while 14 have tested negative, according to the ODH. Ohio High School Athletic Association Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass said its basketball and wrestling tournaments will go on but with limited spectators.

“This will be a very difficult time for our schools and fans, but we cannot ignore the directive of the governor,” Snodgrass said in a statement. “We are pleased that our tournaments can continue and we will soon determine who can attend. However, we can already say that it will most likely be no more than the immediate family of the student-athletes participating in the event.”

While Tuesday games in the boys basketball regional tournament can proceed with fans, the OHSAA plans to announce Wednesday morning how tournaments will proceed after that. Information regarding tickets already sold and what type of media coverage will be permitted is still to be released “as soon as possible” according to the OHSAA.

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Boys basketball regional games are scheduled this week across the state and the girls basketball state semifinals and finals are set for Thursday-Saturday at St. John Arena in Columbus.

The state wrestling finals are scheduled to take place Friday through Sunday at Value City Arena in Columbus. The state hockey finals also are slated for this weekend at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

The Miami RedHawks basketball team is scheduled to the play in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon in Cleveland.  Meanwhile, nursing home operators are determining how to handle visitors and gatherings at their facilities.

Kathryn Brod, president and CEO of LeadingAge Ohio, which represents nonprofit long-term care providers such as nursing homes, said “We had members asked by their county health department to consider canceling all events that would bring in outside guests – they have done so.”

She said their members are continuing their vigilance with infection control but are asking families and friends to take heightened precautions by limiting visitation.  Video chat technology (iPads, iPhones, FaceTime, Skype, etc) can cut down on isolation during this time and LeadingAge is encouraging families and residents to connect through these methods.

“Continuing with those weekly visits to loved ones may need to be halted – opt for a call instead, for everyone’s safety,” Brod said. “We are communicating CMS and CDC guidance on visitation policy that screens for respiratory infection, international travel, and exposure to COVID-19.”

In response to recommendations from Ohio officials, Democratic presidential primary candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both canceled rallies that had been scheduled to be held in Cleveland on Tuesday night.

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