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Ohio turning red, purple, with COVID cases

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine continued to sound the alert about COVID-19’s growing presence in Ohio on the same day that its first county turned “purple” and a 21-day 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew went into effect.

The steady increase in COVID-19 cases across the Buckeye State was the primary focus of DeWine’s Thursday afternoon talk, with a steep upswing in coronavirus-related emergency room visits statewide. He said this is expected to be a precursor to more hospitalizations. As of Thursday, there were 3,829 coronavirus patients in hospitals across Ohio, with more than 900 in intensive care units.

“We are now in the middle of another surge of patients who are hospitalized, one that continues to rise,” DeWine said. “These are the highest patient counts we’ve had during this pandemic, and more than double what we’ve seen in previous peaks.”

DeWine made no mention of closing bars, restaurants and fitness centers, as business owners and community leaders had feared, but the governor stressed that the disease is taking a toll on health care providers.

DeWine pointed out there are no longer any Level 1, or yellow, designated counties on the state’s color-coded risk assessment map. Ohio now has its first Level 4, or purple, county in Franklin County after it flagged six of seven data indicators on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System’s most dangerous designation for two consecutive weeks.

The indicators used by the system include: New cases per capita; new cases increase; non-congregate cases; emergency department visits related to COVID-19; outpatient visits related to COVID-19; hospital admission related to COVID-19; and ICU bed occupancy. The map is updated each Thursday.

Three other counties – Lake, Lorain and Montgomery – remain red but also have flagged six indicators for one week. That means their status could switch from red to purple next week.

“Our health care system is feeling the impact of this disease, and hospitals are worried about being able to keep up with staffing,” DeWine said.

He has been visiting sites across and around the state this week to hear from health care providers. He stopped at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport and spoke o media from Eastern Ohio about the steep increases in caseloads there.

Belmont, Harrison and Monroe counties remain at Level 2, or orange, but Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul has said this is likely due to local patients visiting doctors or hospitals outside of the county. Jefferson County is listed as red, or Level 3.

Last week, DeWine announced more stringent penalties for retailers who neglect to enforce masking regulations and social distancing. DeWine said enforcement units have been in half the 88 counties of the state. They have reported that 90 percent of the retailers observed have been in compliance.

“They’re going into all kinds of different stores,” DeWine said of the enforcement unit. “They’re going into rural counties, large counties, small counties.”

During his talk, DeWine also spoke about opposition from his own party. He mentioned Senate Bill 311, pending in the state legislature. DeWine said the bill, designed to limit powers of the Ohio Department of Health and governor, would take away the power to issue quarantines in the event of this or future emergencies.

He said “time is of the essence” whenever an outbreak or hazardous materials incident occurs and that SB 311 would “make Ohio slow to respond, putting the lives of Ohioans in jeopardy.”

Vowing that he will veto the measure if it is approved by lawmakers, DeWine said, “This bill is a disaster.”

DeWine also advised Ohioans not to gather in large numbers for the Thanksgiving holiday. His wife, Fran, described their own family plans for the celebration, saying they will deliver traditional holiday foods to relatives or allow them to stop by their home to pick food up. Noting that her own mother is 94 years old and that the family includes two new babies as well as grandchildren who attend school, she said they simply cannot get together for a traditional meal this year.

“We just can’t risk it,” she said, noting the family plans to use online platforms to visit with one another on the holiday.

Meanwhile in Belmont County, Sproul said a total of 1,681 positive cases have been confirmed since the start of the pandemic, with 793 people isolated at home with active cases. There have been 842 recoveries. Seventeen people are hospitalized, and 29 residents have died while infected in Belmont County, including nine inmates at the Belmont Correctional Institution.

The number of coronavirus deaths had remained at 25 for several months until last week.

Currently, all but one of Belmont County’s public school districts are operating either through remote learning or with a hybrid of remote learning and in-person instruction. The lone exception is Bridgeport Exempted Village School District, which is still providing in-person education.

Belmont County flagged three of the seven Ohio Public Health Advisory System indicators — new cases per capita; new cases increase; and non-congregate cases. Harrison County flagged two — new cases per capita and non-congregate cases; Monroe County flagged the same three as Belmont. Jefferson County flagged four — the same three as Belmont and Monroe as well as outpatient visits related to COVID-19.

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