The Ohio Department of Health on Thursday reported another record-breaking day of COVID-19 cases in the state and labeled Hamilton County with a black star on its statewide risk map.
If the county’s rising diagnosis and hospitalization trends don’t plateau or reverse within seven days, it could be the first in Ohio to reach ODH’s highest alert level — “purple,” a designation reserved for counties with “severe exposure and spread” of the novel coronavirus.
92.8% of Ohioans are living in a county that is red or high incidence. We cannot let our guard down. pic.twitter.com/TW53qSJOvr
— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) October 22, 2020
People living inside such counties should “only leave home for supplies and services,” per the department’s recommendation.
Gov. Mike DeWine, who unveiled the data during his Thursday news conference, refused to speculate about the possibility of ordering new shutdowns. Any next steps for “purple” counties would be up to local governments; before that, to individual Ohioans who have a chance to avoid a “purple” outcome altogether.
Ohioans must play an active role in protecting each other, the governor said, whether they’re ordered to do so or not. The latest numbers should illustrate how necessary it is.
“Government is not going to come knocking on your door and making sure that you’re not having a party,” DeWine said, adding soon after: “Ultimately, there’s personal responsibility here. Ohioans are pragmatic people. We’re tough, we’re strong, we’re pragmatic. We get serious when it’s time to get serious. It’s time to get serious.”
But, for those unconvinced that 2,425 cases were cause for concern, he opened with a cautionary tale, courtesy of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie, who appeared in the conference via video call, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Oct. 3 — shortly after attending an almost completely mask-free Sept. 26 nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House.
At least 10 other attendees, including President Donald Trump, would test positive for the virus after the event.
“The easiest way to start this is to say, I thought I was safe, and I was wrong,” Christie said.
He had been told everyone else at the event tested negative for the virus, he added. He had tested negative himself. He took his mask off only within the White House gates.
Christie said he felt well enough to work on Oct. 2. Within 24 hours, intense symptoms began: sweating, aching, struggling to breathe. He would be hospitalized in intensive care, where he remained for seven days.
“My message to the people of Ohio and to the people of this country…is that there’s no place to hide from this virus if you’re not going to take these common-sense steps that the CDC and the NIH have recommended to us,” he said. “I made a huge mistake by taking that mask off, and it’s something I hope no other Americans have to go through.”
Later, he added: “As tired as you are of strapping that mask on or going to the sink and washing those hands again, you will take those days in a heartbeat compared to getting this disease.”
By the numbers
Ohio reported 2,425 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, breaking a single-day record set on Wednesday. (That record, in turn, broke a record set Saturday, which broke a record set Oct. 15, which broke a record set Oct. 14.)
The Ohio Department of Health also recorded 159 new hospitalizations, 25 new ICU admissions and 12 new deaths.
“What is most scary about this is that it does not seem like we’re even starting to get to a plateau,” DeWine said. “It just goes up and up.”
About 1,293 people are currently hospitalized, total, within the state, according to DeWine. Ninety-three percent of all Ohioans live in a county that is either “red” — the ODH alert level below “purple” — or considered a “high-incidence” county, meaning it sports more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents.
In Hamilton County, which has 234 cases per 100,000 people, DeWine said the most common venues for COVID-19 transmission are small, relaxed gatherings with friends and family.
These gatherings, which he characterized as a consequence of frustration with the long pandemic, have in turn contributed to the area’s highest-ever daily total of new cases and hospitalizations.
“What I’m saying today is, it is time to pay attention,” he said. “It is serious now. It is getting worse by the minute.”
What happens to schools?
Decisions about schooling in Hamilton and other red-purple cusp counties will be up to local school boards, DeWine said. He urged teachers and administrators to honestly assess their students’ needs before moving to online or blended learning because of COVID-19.
He also encouraged communities to understand the situation the pandemic creates for school districts, which are forced to weigh one bad option (moving online, creating a potential loss of academic progress and placing an additional burden on parents) against another (keeping students and teachers in schools, where their physical health could be at risk).
“There’s no magic to this,” he said. “These are judgment calls that are being made by good people under very, very, very difficult and adverse conditions.”
DeWine briefly mentioned a planned study of children found to be exposed to COVID-19 in schools. The study would last a month and measure whether students who met certain exposure criteria, such as sitting within six feet of an infected classmate, were likely to become infected themselves.