Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he would not issue any new health orders Wednesday night and instead called on all Ohioans to wear masks in public and take precautions to curb the spread of COVID-19 as hospitalizations in the state approach an all-time high.
“Good decisions will protect the economy and save lives. Reckless decisions will hurt and kill," he said during his statewide address.
DeWine announced that although testing in Ohio has increased by 87% in the last several weeks, positive case numbers have shot up by roughly 200%, a trend he said is clearly "not just a result of increased testing."
"Ohio is sliding -- sliding down a very dangerous path," DeWine said of the state's "disturbing reversal of progress."
DeWine also compared recent Ohio coronavirus case numbers to the early stages of severe outbreaks in states like Florida, California and Arizona.
“Once things start moving downhill, they start moving very quickly, and it’s so very, very hard then to turn things back around," he said.
To combat this spread and prevent second shutdowns seen in those states, DeWine called on all Ohioans -- regardless of the county or city they live in, and no matter what level of risk may be present there -- to wear masks in public.
"Tonight, I’m asking each of you to take action now," he said. "Sacrifice now, so our kids can be in school this fall, so they can at least have a chance to play sports, so that our businesses can stay open."
I am asking you, wherever you live, to wear a mask when in public. Some may question the wisdom of masks, but as we said when I was a prosecutor: “The jury is back. The verdict is in.” There is broad consensus in medical, health, & business communities that masks are critical.— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) July 15, 2020
DeWine said that masks have been proven to stop spread of the virus, and that wearing them in public and limiting in-person interactions and activities can save lives and ensure the economy stays open.
"Let's be honest, all of us have started to let our guard down," he said. "... When we do, we are literally playing a Russian roulette game with our own lives, and our families' and our neighbors'."
As hospitalizations in Ohio approach an all-time high, there’s a new concern about running out of hospital space here and across the state.
“We are pleading with people to wear masks because that’s the strategy that we can deploy to keep businesses open,” Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus said.
COVID-19 numbers have surged in Hamilton County the past four weeks, with 1,021 new cases in just the past week. The new numbers include 52 hospitalizations and four deaths.
The surge, on its own, is not totally unexpected, said Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman. But the increase in hospitalizations is alarming.
“The numbers about hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions have no relations to the amount of testing, so those are the indicators that are of greatest concern to me and we are watching those closely,” Kesterman said.
Across the state, hospital beds and equipment availability are being closely monitored.
Hospitals in Southwest Ohio are more than 80% full, according to The Health Collaborative, a group that monitors capacity.
Of the state’s 20,000 beds, 70% are full, according to Ohio Hospital Association spokesperson John Palmer. He said 1,000 beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
The state's all-time high for COVID-19 hospitalizations was 1,100 in April, so Palmer said we could soon be back in the same spot that caused Ohio to shut down in March.
“The concern is overwhelming the health care system, so overwhelming not just bed availability but also equipment availability,” Palmer said.
Statewide, 156 COVID-19 patients are on ventilators, according to Palmer. He said he does not know how many ventilators are available because the number of patients using them fluctuates.
The state has been taking inventory of ventilators since March, he said.
"It's not, I think, appropriate to put out any kind of inaccurate number," said Palmer. "That amount changes regularly. That’s something we continue to monitor as well from the standpoint of utilization.”
Palmer said he is not aware of any shortages at this time. However, if a sudden, massive surge was to occur, we could see equipment needs arise.
Hamilton County is prepared again to use the Duke Energy Convention Center to build out hospital capacity. The county first set up a makeshift hospital there in April and dismantled it a few weeks later when positive cases dropped.
Driehaus hopes Ohio's mask mandate, which DeWine put in place this month, will slow this surge.
“I did mention that to the governor,” Driehaus said. “We need to let this play out to see what it will mean to have 80% of folks in Hamilton County wearing a mask.”
Hamilton, Butler and Clermont counties are among 12 in the state at the red alert level — the second-highest of the Ohio Department of Health's four color-coded emergency tiers. If current trends continue, Hamilton and Butler could deepen to purple, a level at which residents are asked to only leave home for essential supplies and services.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Hospital Association confirmed to WCPO 9 that hospitals are now asked to submit certain data related to the COVID-19 hospitalizations directly to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services instead of to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is part of DHHS.
The big difference is the public will no longer be able to access that information like it can through the CDC.