Ohio overleapt its previous COVID-19 records fewer than 24 hours after Gov. Mike DeWine gave an impassioned plea for Ohioans to tighten their defenses against the worsening pandemic. The Ohio Department of Health, which had reported a record high of 6,508 newly diagnosed cases on Tuesday afternoon, reported 7,101 on Thursday.
And DeWine, returning to his usual news conference schedule, warned again that future shutdowns of bars, restaurants and gyms could be on their way if his state's residents can't reverse the trend within a week.
Mask-wearing, social distancing and frequent hand-washing are powerful tools against the virus, which has claimed more than 242,000 American lives. But Ohioans have let their guard down as the pandemic stretches into its ninth month, and ODH has advised 68 of the state's 88 counties to "limit activities as much as possible" due to uncontrolled spread in their communities.
“I didn’t run for governor to close stuff down," said DeWine, who spent much of the summer and fall refusing to discuss the possibility of shutting down businesses again via state-level decrees. "That’s not what we want to do. But we’re going to do what we have to do, and what I’m asking the people of Ohio to do is put your mask on instead. Be careful. Don’t go to that party.”
DeWine said his administration is specifically considering a second shutdown of bars, restaurants and gyms because customers in these businesses spend most of their time eating, drinking or exercising without a mask. He will announce a decision Nov. 19.
These businesses are not, however, the locations where the virus is most likely to be transmitted. DeWine acknowledged many new cases instead arise from social gatherings of family and friends. Birthday parties, wedding receptions, funerals, game nights, sleepovers and BBQs are all propelling the skyrocketing case count.
So why not limit those? Because the government doesn't have the right to intervene in these personal gatherings, DeWine said. Instead, he hopes to persuade Ohioans by sharing the facts with them several times a week and leading them toward safer, more cautious practices without the use of a government mandate.
"Some of this we can't do and shouldn't do by any kind of mandate," he said. "As far as the weddings and these events, we're not going to tell someone, 'You can't get married.' We're not going to tell someone they can't bury their loved one or can't have a ceremony. Not going to do that. Not right. But we can say, 'Look, we're losing people. People are dying as a result of some of these celebrations. ... You can do it, but wear a mask. Stay at a table, just like you would at a restaurant. Don't go dance.'"
According to DeWine, another widespread shutdown is a worst-case scenario. He said he hopes his persuasion, and the possible wake-up call of a bar and restaurant shutdown, will reach Ohioans before the government is forced to consider it.
What about a vaccine?
DeWine spoke optimistically about the possibility of a Pfizer-produced vaccine becoming available in December.
ODH is preparing for receipt and distribution so it can begin quickly whenever a CDC-approved vaccine arrives, he said.
Ohio expects to receive the treatment in batches, and then first batches will not be available to the general public. Instead, DeWine said, health officials will focus on the most vulnerable and essential workers, including health care workers and people who work at grocery stores.
By the numbers
ODH reported 7,101 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, far more than the previous record of 6,508.
For comparison: On Oct. 12, the state record stood at 1,840. Thursday's is nearly four times that.
The department also reported 35 new deaths, 268 new hospitalizations and 21 patients who were newly admitted to intensive care.