COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Early projections show Ohio is making progress flattening the curve of coronavirus cases in the state. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is poised to sign a sweeping relief package passed by lawmakers to address effects of the virus, while new figures on jobless claims show those numbers skyrocketing. Ohio now has at least 15 deaths and more than 860 cases of the virus, including three at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
A look at virus-related developments in Ohio on Thursday:
FLATTENING THE CURVE
Ohio’s efforts to the slow the spread are showing positive results, the state’s health director said.
Early modeling suggests Ohio is on track to cut the effect on the state’s health care system by 50% or more, said Dr. Amy Acton, state health director.
But it’s no time for a victory lap, she said, adding that residents must remain committed to practicing social distancing and staying at home.
“Ohio, what you’re doing absolutely is saving lives,” Acton said.
Jobless claims skyrocketed from about 7,000 to nearly 188,000 in the week ending Saturday, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That total for a single week was more than Ohio has seen in any full month except one, during the heat of the 1980s recession.
Gov. Mike DeWine said it’s critical that everyone follow his advice to stay home and avoid getting together in large groups, even on playgrounds.
He said he spoke with several mayors on Thursday and some said they were taking down basketball hoops in parks to stop people from gathering.
“Social distancing buys the hospitals, everybody more time,” he said.
Among the more than 860 cases, about 220 people have been hospitalized, with nearly 100 in intensive care.
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base declared a public health emergency and set up a command center after three cases were confirmed there. Unit commanders have been given latitude to let employees work from home if they’re able, the Dayton Daily News reported.
The state is limiting testing to those who are hospitalized and to health care workers. The Department of Health said people with suspected symptoms should call a medical provider first but seek immediate help if symptoms are serious, such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
For most people, COVID-19 displays mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can be more severe, causing pneumonia or death.
DeWine plans to sign on Friday a relief package. Mandatory state testing for schools would be ditched this year, mail-in voting for the postponed primary would be allowed until April 28, and the deadline for filing state income taxes would be extended until July 15 under the wide-ranging bill.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Democratic Party plans to drop a lawsuit against the state elections chief after its concerns about the establishment of a June 2 primary were addressed in the legislation.
The state says anyone who wants to donate masks, goggles, gloves, gowns and face shields for healthcare workers and first responders should send an email to togethergovernor.ohio.gov.
Ohio’s two U.S. attorneys and Attorney General Dave Yost promised swift action, including criminal charges, against doctors found to have improperly prescribed the drugs chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 for patients who don’t have a positive test.
An inmate with HIV has asked to be released during the pandemic, telling the Ohio Supreme Court that being in prison could be a death sentence for him.
Derek Lichtenwalter told the court that social distancing guidelines are not possible among inmates, adding that he is within 3 feet of a dozen people and that the virus would spread quickly if it enters the prison.
The court on Thursday gave the state until Monday to respond to the lawsuit.
HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
There will be no high school basketball, ice hockey or wrestling state champions this year.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association on Thursday officially canceled the remaining winter sports tournaments, ending any hope that they could be resumed.
“Even if our schools reopen this spring, it will be difficult to find facilities willing to host the tournaments,” said Jerry Snodgrass, the group’s executive director.
Seewer reported from Toledo.