COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Duke Energy Convention Center is among a small number of spaces that the state of Ohio plans to use as a temporary medical facility, Gov. Mike DeWine announced in a Monday afternoon news conference.
The state has been working with hospitals to increase their capacity in anticipation of “the surge,” the eventual peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of that effort is finding non-hospital spaces like Duke that could hold patients with less severe cases of the virus, DeWine said.
The rest of it is procuring the supplies that health care workers will need, including gowns, gloves and medical-grade masks, to protect themselves from infection while they treat potentially thousands of new cases each day.
“If we can find it in the marketplace, we’re going to buy it,” DeWine said of the search for suitable gear. “If we can’t buy it, we’re going to make it or repurpose it.”
Cincinnati city leaders have already voted to set aside $11 million to help transform the convention center into a field hospital if necessary. Hamilton County Emergency Management director Nick Crossley estimated the space could hold up to 500 beds.
The provisional hospital spaces, which also include the Dayton Convention Center and Toledo’s Seagate Convention Center, will not hold “high-acuity” patients, Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton said. Instead, they’ll provide additional space for patients with less severe conditions, allowing the sickest Ohioans to be treated in full-time hospital settings.
ODH had confirmed 4,450 cases of COVID-19 and 142 deaths by Monday afternoon. Since the start of the pandemic, 1,214 Ohioans have been hospitalized; 371 have been taken to intensive care units.
Acton continued to predict the peak of COVID-19 cases would arrive between mid-April and mid-May, but the number of new cases per day during that time could be significantly lower than the 10,000 she predicted in late March.
The decline is all due to Ohioans’ social distancing, she said.
“People at home, you are moving mountains,” Acton said. “You are saving lives. I get emotional talking about this because this is no small thing that we are doing together. … I am absolutely certain you will look back and know that you helped save each other in this state. The impact is profound. More than I’d even hoped for.”
It’s critical that it continues, she added. Loosening social distancing guidelines now could quickly undo the work of the last several weeks.
“Double down on your commitment, Ohio,” she said. “Double down, and let’s fight this together. We do not want to be passive and let this virus own us. We have got to own everything that’s in our control.”
DeWine also announced the members of the Ohio National Guard would begin providing medical assistance at the state’s only federal prison, where seven inmates have been diagnosed with the virus and three have died. FCI Elkton, a low-security prison for men, is medically understaffed and has sent its most severely infected patients to hospitals in the surrounding community.
Twenty-six Guard members will spend 7-10 days supporting the prison infimary until additional federal assistance arrives, DeWine said.
At the state level, DeWine said he has begun to consider recommending additonal releases from Ohio prisons. Like the 38 inmates whose release he recommended April 3, DeWine said any further candidates must be nonviolent inmates without a record of sex offenses who are approaching their scheduled release date.