DeWine: Testing will triple by late May

By Randy Ludlow - The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — While officials prepare to work the weekend fine-tuning the partial reopening of Ohio — while also striving to protect Ohioans from coronavirus infections — new figures showed a downtick in cases on Friday.

Gov. Mike DeWine plans to announce on Monday the businesses and employers allowed to open May 1 and which virus precautions will be required amid the phased-in reopening of the state’s shuttered economy.

He announced testing breakthroughs — more swabs and more reagent to analyze samples — on Friday to escalate virus testing to 7,200 a day beginning next week, with the number to increase to 22,000 by late May.

The state on Friday announced 475 more confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases — a decrease from the previous day’s total of 577 — and 34 more deaths from the infectious respiratory disease.

Total coronavirus cases since it first came to light in Ohio on March 9 now stand at 15,169, with 690 dying from COVID-19. The number of probable cases (588) and deaths (41) represent about 4% of the total.

About 90% of the deaths have come among Ohioans age 60 and older, with people age 80 and older accounting for nearly half of deaths.

There again did not appear to be significant increases in virus cases in state prisons after about 80% of inmates have tested positive at both Marion Correctional Institution and Pickaway Correctional Institution.

The prison death toll stands at 18 — 11 inmates at Pickaway, four inmates and a corrections officer at Marion and two inmate patients at Franklin Medical Center in Columbus. The prison system has accounted for 28% of all statewide cases. Marion County reported one more death Friday that could stem from the prison.

DeWine said Friday a program to release prisoners early within 90 days of completing their sentences saw 336 inmates released last week, bringing the total to 844. The system now holds around 48,000 inmates.

Ohio’s number of daily new COVID-19 cases — beyond Thursday’s jump — has plateaued in a fairly consistent range, but have not met the federal first-phase reopening guideline of a downward trajectory over 14 days.

However, with nearly 1 million Ohioans losing their jobs, DeWine says some virus risks must be accepted to permit employers of closed businesses to recall employees and jump start the crashed economy.

After slightly more than a month under a stay-at-home order, the governor say stringent virus precautions will be mandated when he announces Monday which businesses and companies will be permitted to reopen.

In neighboring, hard-hit Michigan — which has recorded more than twice Ohio’s virus cases and four times the deaths — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday extended her stay-at-home order until May 15.

She lifted restrictions to allow some businesses to reopen. The wearing of masks now are required in public places and employers must provide non-medical grade masks to their employees in Michigan.

In a letter to DeWine, Ohio Senate Democrats called Friday for placing public health ahead of economic considerations in reopening the state.

“It’s important that we get this absolutely right,” said Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights. The minority Democrats are demanding increased testing and the mandatory wearing of masks, for example. “The economy is not going to recover if customers are afraid to go shopping and employees are afraid to go to work,” he said.

In the letter, the Democrats wrote: “Our number one priority as a state must be to protect the health and safety of all Ohioans. “We oppose any plan that disproportionately prioritizes the economy over people’s lives.”

DeWine announced what he called “good news” about expanded coronavirus testing as the state is partially re-liberated and Ohioans begin to venture out beginning in a week.

A lack of regent to test virus samples and testing swabs have thwarted expanded testing, he said, adding, “This has been a huge problem in Ohio.” But, help is at hand, the governor said, calling it a “major breakthrough.”

First, a reagent for testing labs developed by Thermo Fisher Scientific, with its Ohio office in Columbus, was approved by the FDA earlier this week and will begin flowing to in-state labs.

Second, ROE Dental Laboratory of Cleveland will make up to 1 million testing swabs by importing more 3-D printers and recalling 100 employees to work around the clock, DeWine said.

The critical supplies will allow testing to triple by the end of the month and focus testing attention on areas such as nursing homes and newly developed “hot spots,” the governor said.

Testing largely remains restricted to suspected virus patients, health-care workers and those with health conditions making them susceptible to coronavirus.

A total of 102,235 coronavirus tests — among 11.7 million Ohioans — had been administered as of Thursday, with 14.4% returning positive.

Dr. Amy Acton, state health director, missed Friday’s virus briefing as she works to expand testing and contact tracing to track down and isolate Ohioans who were exposed to a person with the virus.

By Randy Ludlow

The Columbus Dispatch

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