Ohio governor says some businesses may reopen after May 1


By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS and MARK GILLISPIE - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Some Ohio businesses could begin reopening after May 1 as long as proper precautions are taken amid the pandemic, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday.

Social distancing, the cleaning of surfaces, frequent hand-washing and mask wearing must continue, he said.

DeWine said he understands the importance of getting the economy moving again, but Ohio must be careful to avoid problems such as future COVID-19 spikes after society has reopened. The state will keep a close eye on supplies of personal protective equipment like gowns, masks and face shields, and also on testing, the governor said.

“If we don’t do it right, the consequences are horrendous,” DeWine said.

A look at other coronavirus-related developments Thursday in Ohio:

ECONOMY

The state reported 158,678 unemployment compensation claims for the week ending April 11 for a total of 855,197 over the past four weeks. That is significantly above the combined 715,512 claims filed in the previous two years, according to the human services agency.

The state has paid a record $227 million to more than 271,000 individuals who filed for unemployment in the past four weeks.

Nationally, a record 22 million people have sought jobless benefits, including 5.2 million new claims reported Thursday.

___

HOSPITALS

The percentage of beds available in Ohio hospitals is unchanged since before the coronavirus pandemic began, and so far facilities set aside to take extra patients are going unused, hospital officials said.

The cancellation of elective surgeries, Ohio’s stay-at-home order and adherence to social distancing practices have allowed hospital systems in the state to avoid the surges in coronavirus patients that have overwhelmed hospitals in other states, officials said.

Ohio hospital bed use in the last four weeks has remained steady at between 50% and 60%, which is the average in normal times, said John Palmer, a spokesman for the Ohio Hospital Association.

In Cleveland, just over half of University Hospitals’ 1,800 beds were occupied earlier this week, with 58% of intensive care beds in use, said Dr. William Brien, the system’s chief medical officer and chief quality officer. Officials planned for a surge in coronavirus cases of as much as 300% of the system’s bed capacity, he said.

Brien said he is cautiously optimistic as COVID-19 infections in the state appear to have plateaued.

Hospital systems throughout Ohio made plans together to create hospital capacity in facilities such as convention centers and university field houses that have not been needed thus far. In Cleveland, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth Medical Center worked closely together in anticipation of a surge in coronavirus cases, Brien said.

“We were prepared, and maybe had a little luck going for us, too,” Brien said.

The COVID-19 threat will not completely dissipate until the vast majority of the population becomes immune, which is known as herd protection, or an effective vaccine becomes available, Brien said. DeWine made the same point earlier this week.

___

CASES

To date, Ohio has confirmed more than 8,400 cases and 389 deaths, according to new federal guidelines that allow cases and deaths considered “probable” COVID-19 infections without a positive test.

The pandemic has caused more than 2,300 hospitalizations in Ohio, with more than 700 people needing treatment in intensive care units.

Health care workers account for 20% of the overall cases in the state. Nursing homes have reported more than 800 cases, or about one in 10.

The virus has infected more than 150 state prison employees and more than 270 inmates, and killed one guard and three inmates. Six inmates have died at a federal prison in Elkton in eastern Ohio.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

___

Gillispie reported from Cleveland.

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS and MARK GILLISPIE

Associated Press