COLUMBUS — Heading into Election Day, Ohio appears to be in the midst of a sharp, broadly based spike in coronavirus cases with no end in sight, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday.
Continuing a trend, the 2,509 new cases reported from the previous 24 hours were a 27% increase over the 21-day average and the 198 new hospitalizations represented a 69% increase over the three-week average for that metric.
And as it is elsewhere in the United States, the virus is spreading into rural corners of Ohio that previously had been spared.
“Right now, 92.8% of Ohioans are living in a county that is high incidence and/or has very high exposure and spread,” DeWine’s office said in a tweet.
Adding to the alarm, the “positivity rate,” or the percentage of tests turning out to be positive for coronavirus, is nearing 6%. That’s about double what it was in late September.
Given the fact that Ohio continues to increase the number of tests that are administered, the higher rate indicates that people are spreading the disease to one another at a pace that is snowballing.
“We have no indication that we’ve plateaued out at all,” DeWine said during his Tuesday coronavirus press conference.
He said he found the situation so alarming that he was calling on medical, government, education and other leaders in each of the state’s 88 counties to work together on strategies to arrest the spread of the disease as cold, wet weather drives Ohioans indoors.
DeWine also had an appeal relating to Halloween and football parties and Thanksgiving gatherings.
“Please reconsider hosting gatherings of any size,” he said.
The dire statements brought the kinds of questions the governor has often faced since he started holding coronavirus briefings back in March.
One was whether he would reimpose orders closing businesses not deemed to be essential. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said one reason such a move might be unnecessary is that much of the spread happening now in Ohio doesn’t seem to be occurring inside businesses.
DeWine also started to rule out the possibility of another shutdown but then seemed to think better of being too definite.
“We just can’t shut down twice, or we certainly don’t want to do it twice,” he said.
Then, after describing what could happen if the spread of the disease is unchecked, DeWine said things could get so bad that “we will one way or the other be shut down.”
DeWine also faced more questions about statements and actions concerning the pandemic by President Donald Trump and his staff.
One was a proposal to allow uncontrolled spread among populations without other health risks in an attempt to achieve “herd immunity.” If successful, it would mean that such a large chunk of the population would be immune to the virus that it would have a hard time spreading.
The idea has been endorsed by Scott Atlas, a doctor who doesn’t specialize in infectious diseases, but was placed on the White House coronavirus team after Trump saw him on Fox News.
The argument has been widely discredited, with renowned epidemiologist Michael Osterholm calling Atlas’s arguments “the most amazing combination of pixie dust and pseudoscience I’ve ever seen.”
DeWine echoed that on Tuesday, saying, “There’s no reputable scientist I’m aware of anywhere in the world” who thinks herd immunity can be achieved without a vaccine anytime soon.
DeWine was also asked why he greeted Trump at the airport Saturday. Trump was on his way to Circleville for a rally where people crowded together and at which Trump said the coronavirus is being overhyped by the media.
DeWine at first seemed to distance himself from Trump, saying he was merely respecting the dignity of Trump’s office. But then…
“Please understand exactly what it was. It was the governor of Ohio greeting the president of the United States,” DeWine said. “Again, I’ve also endorsed him and I continue to endorse him.”
This story shared for republication by, and with permission from, the Ohio Capital Journal, an independent, nonprofit news organization. For more information go to www.ohiocapitaljournal.com
Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.