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Ohio shatters COVID-19 diagnosis record; DeWine resists state-level action

Ohio changes mask policy back, again requires anyone returning to work to wear one
Posted at 1:59 PM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-29 21:20:21-04

The Ohio Department of Health recorded 3,590 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday — not just the state’s highest daily total since the pandemic began in March, but higher than the previous record by more than 700 cases.

Despite the leap, none of the state’s 88 counties have darkened to purple on ODH’s color-coded public health advisory map. Hamilton County, which had been marked with a black star on the previous week’s version of the map, returned to simply red.

Per ODH, it’s the color of almost-crisis: “Very high exposure and spread” of the novel coronavirus, with residents encouraged to “limit activities as much as possible.”

About 78% of all Ohioans now live in a county on the edge.

“The virus is raging throughout the state of Ohio,” Gov. Mike DeWine acknowledged in his Thursday afternoon news conference. “There’s no place to hide.”

For weeks, DeWine has hesitated to publicly consider issuing new health orders at a state level. In the spring and summer, when he was less reluctant to do so, protesters gathered daily outside the Capitol and at the home of then-health director Amy Acton, who resigned in June.

Facing Thursday’s elevated numbers, DeWine responded with a plea to each of Ohio’s 88 county governments: Form a “COVID defense team” that can respond to the crisis locally.

DeWine said he believes a county-by-county response to the crisis, ideally directed by a team including county officials, health care workers and business owners, will be more effective than one led by Columbus. He added that he plans to hold Zoom calls with leaders from every county to discuss the shape of their community’s response as winter approaches.

“My experience in life, my experience in politics and government in Ohio, is things happen at the local level,” DeWine said. “And somebody at the local level who might not think they should wear a mask is a lot more likely to listen to a neighbor than they are to me, or than they are to Dr. Fauci or than they are to the lieutenant governor or the health director.”

By the time DeWine addressed the state on Thursday, he had already spoken with leaders in Clarke, Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Holmes and Mercer counties, he said. Getting to the rest of the counties could take days.

‘We’re simply letting our guard down’

Why the steep increase in diagnoses? UC Health CEO Dr. Rick Lofgren, who appeared at DeWine’s conference remotely via video call, attributed much of the spike to “COVID fatigue." Ohioans are becoming so exhausted by the pandemic that they return to risky behavior, especially in small gatherings with friends and family, he said.

“I think we’re simply letting our guard down,” Lofgren said. “We all have COVID fatigue, but we know what works. I think we’re starting to see people expanding their bubble. … We need to recognize that if we expand our bubble, you’re increasing your risk.

“At any given time, we don’t know who among us may be infected without symptoms and may be inadvertently spreading the virus.”

Many of the new cases are difficult to trace due to the high level of permeation in various Ohio communities, Lofgren and DeWine said. “Super-spreader” events are relatively uncommon; diagnoses that arise from daily interactions and informal gatherings are growing.

Recent examples of successful tracing led investigators back to off-campus gatherings by a high school football team, a doctor’s office where staff wore their masks incorrectly and a September funeral that infected 19 people, DeWine said. Not all of the 19 had actually attended.

By the numbers

In addition to the 3,590 new cases reported Thursday, the Ohio Department of Health recorded 19 new deaths and 194 new hospitalizations. Twenty-six Ohioans were newly admitted to intensive care.

DeWine and Lofgren each said the increase in cases — and experts’ corresponding level of concern — was not simply the product of more testing.

Lofgren said the state’s positivity rate, the percentage of positive tests relative to all tests performed, doubled from 3% to 6% between late September and late October.