COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thursday was a quieter one than any Ohioan would have expected at the start of the year: No school, no Reds Opening Day parade in Cincinnati, no planning for spring graduation ceremonies or weddings.
But without the social distancing measures that transformed and quieted the state over the course of two weeks, 35,000 Ohioans might have been infected with COVID-19 by the time the march through Findlay Market began, Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton said in an afternoon news conference.
Instead, 867 people have been formally diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. Ninety-one of those patients have been admitted to intensive-care units; 132 were hospitalized in less critical condition. Fifteen are dead.
And a surge is still coming, Acton said. An epidemiological model created by the Ohio State University’s Infectious Diseases Institute predicts that by late April, a socially distanced Ohio could still see as many as 6,000-8,000 newly diagnosed cases each day.
But each provision that has kept Ohioans inside their homes has pushed the surge back and decreased the likelihood that tens of thousands of patients will find themselves clamoring for the same hospital beds.
“We have, through our collective work here in Ohio, decreased that impact on our healthcare system from anywhere from 50-70%,” Acton said.
That work has to continue, she added.
“We have got to even clamp down more,” she said. “We have got to stay home. We can’t go the other direction right now.”
Enforcing those measures brought a different kind of surge to the office of Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services received 187,780 unemployment claims from March 15-21.
For context: The entire year of 2019 saw 369,594.
More are coming. The state’s unemployment hotline received 1.7 million calls in the same week, Husted said. Some people who attempted to file claims or find information online couldn’t navigate the website, which crashed more than once under the weight of thousands of users.
“We know that not everybody is getting served at the pace the demand requires,” Husted said.
The state is building servers and expanding the site’s capacity in an attempt to prevent future crashes. In the meantime, Husted said, the government is prepared to provide benefits retroactively to people who are not immediately able to file after losing their jobs.
“People should not worry,” DeWine said. “The money will be there. They should continue to apply.”