COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine and state health director Amy Acton started a new month by issuing a pair of new orders: One to hasten COVID-19 testing and one to protect small businesses affected by the pandemic.
Although the curtain of limitations on public came down fast in mid-March, both officials anticipate a slow return to normalcy in the back half of 2020.
“The surge” — the anticipated peak of COVID-19 cases between mid-April and early May — is still ahead, Acton said. Shutting down schools, ordering the closure of non-essential businesses and enforcing social distancing rules bought Ohio time and could blunt the impact when it hits, but there’s no future without a hurricane on the horizon. Acton described each new protective measure as the difference between a Category 5 storm and a Category 3.
Afterward, she said, “this will not be a switch that you flip and life goes back to normal. It will be a gradual returning.”
Her department had confirmed 2,547 diagnoses by Wednesday afternoon. The patients range in age from infancy to 99 years old; 679 are hospitalized; 222 had been admitted to intensive care units. Sixty-five were dead.
Acton’s new order directs all hospitals incapable of processing COVID-19 tests in-house to send the tests to another hospital that can — not to a private lab, where patients have been waiting up to six days for results.
“It’s unacceptable to the patient” to wait that long, DeWine said. “It’s unacceptable for the rest of us because knowing when someone tests positive or doesn’t test positive is information that we very, very desperately need.”
According to Acton, the state’s central lab can process a test in as little as eight hours.
DeWine’s executive order directs lenders and landlords to work with small business owners and suspend payments for at least 90 days.
“We know that many of them are hurting,” he said. “We know that they’ve had to make some very, very tough choices. We also know that our small business owners are resilient. They are no strangers to hard work and sacrifice.”
More orders are forthcoming Thursday, he added.
One in particular could affect religious congregations that continue to hold in-person services — a group DeWine had previously discouraged but declined to address with direct executive action.
Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio, held its regular Sunday morning worship services two weekends in a row despite a request from the Butler County Health Department to stop. In a statement, church leaders wrote they would not halt in-person worship unless such services became illegal.
DeWine, a Catholic whose religious faith has shaped his policy decisions throughout his career, said worshipping in person during the pandemic is “a very, very serious mistake.”
“Any pastor that brings people together in close proximity to each other, a large group of people, is making a huge mistake,” he said. “It is not a Christian thing to do. It is not a Judeo-Christian thing to do, to hurt people. I’m sure no one intends to do that, but by bringing people together, you are risking their health, you are risking your health, you are risking total strangers’ health. This is just a huge, huge mistake.”