COVID-19
COVID-19
COLUMBUS — Allen County is now on Ohio’s Watch List and continues at Level 3 on the Ohio Pubic Health Advisory System with a star because the county is nearing Purple Level Alert 4.

Counties at Purple Level Alert 4 have severe threat for exposure or spread of the virus and residents should only leave home for supplies and services.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said Thursday that new public health data has led the Ohio Department of Health to designate 23 counties as being in a Red Alert Level 3 Public Emergency as defined by the Ohio Public Health Advisory System.

As of Thursday, the following changes were made:

Upgraded to Level 3

Clark, Defiance, Erie, Hardin, Henry, Lawrence, Marion and Medina.

Continuing at Level 3

Athens, Allen*, Clermont, Cuyahoga, Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Hamilton, Licking, Lucas, Montgomery, Pickaway, Richland, Scioto and Union.

Downgraded to Level 2

Butler, Lorain, Summit and Wood.

Franklin and Licking counties, despite meeting fewer indicators, remain at Red Alert Level 3 due to meeting the CDC guidelines for high incidence of COVID-19.

Butler, Lorain, Summit, and Wood counties were downgraded to Orange Alert Level 2, however, these counties remain at the CDC definition of moderately high incidence of COVID-19. Both Wood and Butler counties nearly meet the definition of high incidence.

“Overall, the downgrade in the risk levels in these four counties tells us that the measures to mitigate COVID-19 spread in red counties — including increased diligence in social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and reducing interactions with others outside your household — may be helping to slow the spread in these counties,” said Governor DeWine. “We are cautiously optimistic about this but these are still high levels of spread and citizens across Ohio must continue to be vigilant.”

Detailed information on each Red Alert Level 3 county can be found on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System’s website. Each level is calculated with data gathered on seven public health indicators.

Importance of self-quarantines

Following an outbreak at an Ohio long-term care facility in which more than two dozen residents and staff tested positive for COVID-19, Governor DeWine continued to encourage Ohioans to self-quarantine for 14-days after traveling to high-risk areas.

Contact tracing found that the long-term care facility’s outbreak occurred due to a group of people who traveled to a high-risk area outside of Ohio and became sick upon return. Members of the group did not isolate and spread the virus into the nursing facility.

“When we look at the way this virus is progressing, we have to do everything we can to stop it in its tracks, and that may mean deferring a vacation so you’re not putting yourself or your friends and family at risk,” said DeWine. “This may mean that you need to stay home from work, but these are critical sacrifices that we are calling on all Ohioans to make when necessary.”

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Broadband expansion

Lt. Governor Jon Husted announced Thursday the next steps in OhioBroadband’s plans to expand broadband access across the state.

In an effort to provide schools with the ability to search, review and compare prices for purchasing hotspots and equipment, a Request for Information (RFI) will be issued to internet providers for everything from hotspots to laptops to tablets.

Respondents to the RFI will need to provide the specific equipment they have available, number of units available, price, and amount of time it would take to implement an order. This RFI will be specific to K-12 plans and will be housed in a single location, giving every school district a chance to compare what is available and make the best decision for their district and their students.

Additionally, pending upcoming Controlling Board approval, schools can apply for a dollar to dollar matching grant program with the state for hotspots, in-home internet, and internet-enabled devices to students. This funding will be facilitated through the federal CARES Act and will total $50 million. Schools will have the flexibility to use the funding through a connectivity plan that makes the most sense for their student population and district.

The Lt. Governor also announced the launch of a new E-Permitting system through InnovateOhio and the Ohio Department of Transportation. The new system fulfills a goal outlined in the December 2019, Ohio Broadband Strategy, and replaces a paper-only right-of-way permitting system with an online process that is more convenient for permit requesters and is expected to reallocate 24,000 hours of labor per year.

On Wednesday:

Statewide mask order

Governor DeWine announced that beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 23, a statewide mask mandate will go into effect for citizens living in all 88 Ohio counties.

“Our preliminary data indicate that the rate of increase in new cases has slowed in the high-risk counties where masks are already mandated, so we are cautiously optimistic that things are heading in the right direction,” said DeWine. “We believe that requiring masks statewide will make a significant difference and will be key to making sure other counties do not progress to a higher level of increased spread.”

All individuals in Ohio must wear facial coverings in public at all times when:

— At an indoor location that is not a residence

— Outdoors, but unable to maintain six-foot social distance from people who are not household members

— Waiting for, riding, driving, or operating public transportation, such as a taxi, a car service, or a private car used for ride-sharing.

— The order only requires those 10 years old or older to wear a mask. Additional exclusions include:

— Those with a medical condition or a disability or those communicating with someone with a disability;

— Those who are actively exercising or playing sports;

— Those who are officiants at religious services;

— Those who are actively involved in public safety; or

— Those who are actively eating or drinking.

Statewide travel warning

A travel advisory for all individuals coming into Ohio from states reporting positive COVID-19 testing rates of 15 percent or higher was also announced.

Those traveling from one of the following states should self-quarantine for 14 days at home or in a hotel: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and Texas.

The self-quarantine recommendation applies to those who live in Ohio and to people who are traveling into Ohio from any of these states.

Ohio’s positivity rate, which is an indicator of the percentage of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, has been around 6.2 percent.

Visit coronavirus.ohio.gov for tips on how to effectively quarantine.

Informal gatherings

DeWine urged citizens to use extreme caution when considering attending or hosting an informal gathering.

“We are seeing serious exposures to the virus that are arising from everyday events like church services, small house parties, neighborhood get-togethers, children’s sleepovers, weddings and even bridal showers,” said DeWine. “This virus is real and we cannot let our guards down.”

County fairs

Following a 19-case outbreak linked to a county fair, DeWine today spoke with fair managers from across Ohio to stress the importance of following safety guidance during county fair events.

“We’ve seen photos of packed grandstands and little social distancing,” said DeWine. “We want fairs to continue, but I expressed in the phone call today that fairs must follow the rules.”

Guidance for fairs is available at coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Congressional letter

Lt. Governor Husted announced that DeWine has signed onto a letter to Congressional leadership with 20 other fellow Governors from across the nation, calling for reasonable limited liability protections for businesses, schools, healthcare workers, and governments as they are reopened during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The letter calls for predictable, timely, targeted liability protections to shield employers from legal risks associated with the spread of the novel coronavirus, so long as they are following the appropriate standards of care to protect their employees, customers, and students. The letter specifically requests that the protections be drawn in a narrow fashion as to not give license for gross negligence, misconduct, or recklessness.

The letter was co-signed by the Governors of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Dropping unemployment rate

In the first press conference since Ohio’s latest unemployment figures were released, Lt. Governor Husted also highlighted Ohio’s strengthening economy as the state responsibly restarts in the midst of the pandemic. Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped three percentage points in the last month to 10.9%. The Lt. Governor also highlighted how Ohio companies continue to go to great lengths to support their employees and customers.

Hospital indicators

Beginning with Thursday’s updated Ohio Public Health Advisory System map, DeWine announced that the ICU indicator will be enhanced to address concerns in the event ICU levels increase due to reasons other than COVID-19.

The indicator will trigger if ICU capacity for a county’s hospital region exceeds 80 percent of normal capacity and if 20 percent of the normal ICU capacity is being used for COVID-19 positive patients.

The Ohio Public Health Advisory System will also be updated in the coming weeks to include more localized testing data and an indicator related to known contacts spreading the virus when such local data is widely available.