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DeWine: ‘Help us get control of this virus’

WHEELING — The next few weeks are critical in decreasing the spread of COVID-19, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday during one of his Eastern Ohio stops.

DeWine visited the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport to discuss the sudden rise in virus cases and hospitalizations throughout the Buckeye State. Between 7,500 and 8,000 new cases have been reported across the state each day for the past week, he said.

“That’s a marked increase. Six weeks ago, we were at 1,000 new cases a day, so it’s gone up eight-fold in six weeks and it’s rising at a fast rate. We know that when we see that many cases, it means we’re going to have more hospitalizations,” he said.

DeWine said hospitalizations related to the coronavirus, which have more than doubled since last month, are going up at an “alarming rate.”

DeWine said the virus is making its way into rural communities — such as those in Belmont, Harrison, Jefferson and Monroe counties — and is hitting those areas hard. There have been 656 cases reported in the last two weeks in those counties, he said.

“We’re now in a situation in Ohio where even our rural counties are seeing a high incidence of spread,” the governor said. “In the spring and in the summer, many of our rural counties, Eastern Ohio counties, really didn’t see that much of the virus and it would certainly have been possible then to live in a county, Belmont County for example, and not think the virus was really there. You didn’t know anybody that had it and didn’t know anybody that was in the hospital.

“That is changing, unfortunately,” he added. “People in Belmont County, Jefferson, Harrison, Monroe, this part of the state, are going to, unfortunately, are going to see more people they know come down with the virus.”

DeWine said the progress of the Moderna vaccine is “good news” and that it could reach the state in December. Those working in the health care field and first responders will be the first to receive the vaccine, he said.

“We are going to get them (vaccines) out just as quickly as we can. We are going to start by protecting our elderly, people who are in our nursing homes, by vaccinating those who work there,” he said. “We’ll also be vaccinating our first responders, our health care professionals who are out there on the front lines. So it will take some months for us to get enough into Ohio and continue to get that out, but that is really the good news.”

DeWine said the virus must be slowed down so that schools and businesses can remain open.

“In the next several weeks, we’ve gotta get it slowed down,” he said. “We do not want to shut businesses down in the state, we don’t want to shut schools down. What we do now in the next few weeks, and the reason I’m here in Eastern Ohio, is to appeal to the people of this area to help us get control of this virus.

“Here’s what’s at stake if we can’t get control of this virus,” he continued. “Our kids are no longer going to be in school and we’re already starting to see this in some school districts where they can’t find enough bus drivers, they can’t find enough teachers in class or where they’ve got too many kids in quarantine. The virus is a direct threat to having our children in school.”

DeWine also spoke about the revised mask mandate for retail outlets that went into effect Monday. The new Retail Compliance Unit will be going throughout the state to ensure everyone is complying with the order, he said. A business that does not comply will receive a warning first, but could be closed for up to 24 hours on second offense.

The revised mandate is meant to ensure the safety of all Ohioans, he said. DeWine does not recommend that residents contact law enforcement if they witness a person not complying with the order. He said he is hoping to rely on the “good will” of residents to follow the order.

DeWine said he hopes increased mask usage will prevent further spread of the virus, as he does not want to shut the economy down and deal with the consequences — ranging from increased unemployment to mental health issues — that could come with that move.

Dr. Shaun Roe, family physician and medical director of Belmont Professional Associates which is affiliated with WVU Medicine Barnesville Hospital, also spoke at the press conference about the dramatic increase in cases in the local area. He said it could take weeks to months to see an increase in hospitalizations or deaths. He said as of now, area hospitals are managing the number of COVID-19 positive patients; however, as these cases continue to spread, there may be a need for hospital beds.

Roe said a plan is in place to combat the spread, but that can only work if there is enough hospital staff to handle it. He urged residents to do their part to help that cause.

“Us, as health care workers, are going to do what we always do, we’re in this to take care of people. We’re going to buckle down and do what we need to do. We’re here to encourage everyone to do your part and try to help slow the virus — wear a mask, keep your distance, try to keep your bubble small,” he said.

For the holidays, Roe said to try to keep your number of close contacts small and to make smart choices.

“Everyone wants to see their family, but we have to be careful and be knowledgeable in what we’re doing and do it in a safe way so we can have more Thanksgivings and more Christmases,” he said.

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