COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health reported 4,961 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a record-breaking number Gov. Mike DeWine described as “shockingly high.” Eighty-six percent of Ohioans now live in a “red” county with widespread infection, and daily hospitalization numbers are higher than ever before.
Still, the Republican governor said he did not plan to enact new health orders restricting Ohioans’ activities. The new pandemic control measures announced Thursday — including the long-awaited appointment of a new health director — instead focus on preparation for the arrival and distribution of a vaccine.
“A lot of this, we can’t micromanage and we can’t control,” DeWine said of the small, intimate gatherings that have been responsible for most new cases in the last month.
DeWine said the restrictions his administration has maintained on businesses and schools have largely proven successful, and these spaces are not major vectors for transmission of the novel coronavirus. The spaces that do produce most infection — birthday parties, weddings, neighborhood BBQs and family gatherings — are beyond his ability to control with legislation, he said.
“So much of this is areas where government cannot really impact what people do,” he said, adding: “So much of this comes down, the most power is not in my hands. The most power is in the hands of every citizen of the state of Ohio.”
The governor appealed again, as he did in almost every one of his October news conferences, to Ohioans’ sense of personal responsibility to curb the third and highest spike of cases in his state.
He also expressed faith that Ohioans would take the pandemic more seriously once they observed the virus in their communities and social circles.
“As it starts to impact more and more people, particularly in the rural areas that have been spared, I do believe that people will understand the urgency of this and that we’ll start seeing more wearing of masks, more distancing and more smart decisions being made,” he said.
He’d voiced the same opinion on Oct. 22, when the single-day diagnosis record was 2,425. Then, DeWine told Ohioans it was time to pay attention.
The record has more than doubled in the 14 days since.
New team at the top of ODH
DeWine named a new state health director Thursday, filling a position that had been without a permanent occupant since early June.
Stephanie McCloud, formerly the head of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, will step into the role at the top of Ohio’s health system. Unlike predecessor Amy Acton, McCloud is not a medical doctor — her background is in law and administration. DeWine praised her organizational skills and her record as head of the BWC during the pandemic.
McCloud will be flanked by a chief medical officer who is an MD: Ohio Health VP Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, whose responsibilities will include counseling the governor and coordinating with health officials across the country.
Dr. Lance Himes, who became acting health director upon Acton’s resignation in June, will move into a role as “senior deputy” and focus on communicating with health departments across Ohio throughout the remainder of the pandemic.
Each of these roles, DeWine said, will be involved in preparing for the distribution of a vaccine when it arrives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have predicted the United States may have a vaccine by the end of 2020. However, the New York Times reported most Americans shouldn’t expect to get one until 2021.
By the numbers
The Ohio Department of Health reported 4,961 cases on Thursday, surpassing the previous record of 4,229 new cases on Election Day.
DeWine has frequently stressed that the increase in diagnoses is not attributable to increased testing; on Thursday, he brought data.
The number of tests performed in Ohio has increased 44% since Sept. 28, according to data gathered by ODH.
The number of COVID-19 cases has increased 280% in the same time period.
Health officials have also recorded more visits to doctor’s office and emergency rooms, plus more COVID-19 patients needing to be hospitalized during their illness.
ODH recorded 33 new deaths, 214 new hospitalizations and 23 patients who were moved to intensive care between Wednesday and Thursday.