The weeks between Wednesday afternoon and the successful delivery of the first COVID-19 vaccine in Ohio will likely be among the most dangerous of the entire pandemic, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Christ Hospital infection disease expert Dr. Thomas Lamarre said in a Wednesday afternoon news conference. If the vaccine is on one side of a canyon, Ohio is standing on the opposite cliff.
The state might fall in, in the meantime. Its footing is unsteady. Ohio health officials now regularly report over 5,000 new diagnoses per day. Hospitals are turning down transfers and shuffling non-COVID patients from wing to wing. Health care workers are tired, sick and burnt out, according to Lamarre.
But, DeWine said, it might also build a bridge.
“I’m here to ask the people of southwest Ohio to go that extra mile, to do more,” he told a small group of reporters at Lunken Airport on Wednesday afternoon. “Every day, do something that cuts back your contacts with other people.”
DeWine’s administration will begin enforcing a statewide 10 p.m. curfew on Thursday. Most retail establishments will be required to close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and DeWine said Ohioans should take that as their cue to remain at home.
The “exceedingly, exceedingly high” level of diagnoses and hospitalizations is an existential threat to schools, nursing homes and the health care system’s ability to treat all patients, according to the governor. Help is coming in the form of a vaccine, the first 30,000 doses of which are expected by December, but Ohioans need to stay the course until it becomes widespread. That could mean waiting until spring to resume normal life.
“There is a future out there,” he said. “But if we’re mindless about it and just take the attitude, ‘Hey, whatever happens, happens’ — it’s not very smart, frankly.”
Cincinnati was the last stop on DeWine’s rapid-fire, one-day tour of the state, which included five other speeches in Cedarville, Toledo, Cleveland, Youngstown and Columbus. All were about the pandemic, the straining state health care system and the need for ordinary Ohioans to take an active role in reducing COVID-19 spread.
The governor has made the same pleas in his twice-weekly news briefings since spring and committed to them with renewed urgency since cases began to spike in mid-October. He has repeatedly expressed faith that Ohioans will do the right thing if given the right information.
Lamarre, the infectious disease expert, said he’s not convinced most Ohioans understand the gravity of the current situation.
“As we constantly ask for mask-wearing, social distancing and limits on social gatherings, I worry that many have forgotten why these actions are so critical to the community,” he said.
Lamarre had appeared in one of Cincinnati’s first COVID-19 news conferences on March 12. At the time, no cases had been confirmed in Cincinnati or any surrounding city. Mayor John Cranley assured Cincinnatians that they would make it through.
On Wednesday, Lamarre described the situation at Christ Hospital as one of constant stress, fatigue and fear. He said the threat of COVID-19 shapes all organizational decisions, whether they are connected to actual COVID-19 cases or not.
About 19% of all tests performed in the hospital network come back positive — one in five patients who are tested has the virus.
Although the network’s supply of tests and personal protective equipment is strong, Lamarre said staff are increasingly vulnerable to the mental and physical health effects of working around the clock during a pandemic. Some are quitting. Many are missing work to quarantine. Some are catching COVID-19.
“We need you to care for us so we can continue to care for you,” Lamarre said, urging Ohioans to wear masks, keep their distance and wash their hands frequently for the sake of their communities.
He added later: “We need people to help us. It’s a desperate time.”