Acton: ODH, strapped for resources, is mailing out masks and could enlist med students

Amy Acton feat Mike DeWine
Posted at 2:30 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 18:05:35-04

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hospitals and nursing homes preparing to receive personal protective equipment from the Ohio Department of Health should expect boxes, not truckloads, ODH director Amy Acton said Monday afternoon.

“Don’t be surprised,” she said in a news conference with Gov. Mike DeWine. “That is the truth. That is the reality.”

It’s also as much as the state can spare. ODH will reserve 20% of its supply of personal protective equipment, including medical masks, to concentrate on treating clusters of COVID-19 infections. The remaining 80% will be distributed to local departments throughout the state.

Ohio health workers had officially confirmed 442 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths related to the virus by Monday at 2 p.m. An executive order instructing all Ohioans to shelter in place, limiting the person-to-person contact that spreads COVID-19, would take effect just before midnight.

“The most important thing we can all do right now is stay at home,” Acton said.

Health officials, including Acton, have repeatedly emphasized that the number of diagnosed coronavirus cases will grow each day, often by leaps, for the foreseeable future. The state is approaching the upward swing of “the curve,” the graph Acton deploys at each of her news briefings with DeWine.

Acton added some Ohio businesses had begun to manufacture more personal protective equipment to meet the anticipated jump in demand, and the state health department had begun to form plans to enlist retired physicians and medical students in its anti-coronavirus efforts.

Neither group would treat patients, but both could function as call-center workers or remote epidemiologists tracking the spread of the virus, she said.

“We have to maximize as best we can what we have,” she said.

Because the pandemic-fueled closure of most businesses will result in a sharp economic downturn, DeWine said the state plans to immediately curb its spending to compensate. That means a total travel freeze for state employees, a freeze on new contract services and a hiring freeze on all positions not directly related to fighting COVID-19.

DeWine said he had also instructed members of his cabinet to search for places they could quickly cut their budgets — some by up to 20%.

He and Acton both acknowledged the public health measures they had taken so far — closing all schools, ordering the closures of non-essential businesses, ending dine-in service at bars and restaurants — could feel punishing to Ohioans who have lost their jobs or been hard-pressed to locate childcare as a result.

They’re necessary to protect the state from something much worse, DeWine said.

"We would not have issued this if it wasn't a matter of life or death,” DeWine said of his stay-at-home order. “And this is a matter of life and death. This is not just something that we made up and decided that this is what we wanted to impose on the state of Ohio. It is with great reluctance that any governor would make an order such as this."