COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that the state, which lacks a system that epidemiologists can use to query coronavirus contact tracing data, is going to require local health departments to send more information on possible sources of infection.
But DeWine cautioned that the improvements will only provide possible sources of spread, since they’re fairly low tech: “We’re going to give them a field of things to check,” he said.
For instance, if during a contact tracing interview a COVID-19 patient indicates they visited a bar, attended a church service in person and shopped at the grocery store, those locales will be checked as possible sources of infection. But there won’t be a way to know for sure which one was the source.
It’s unknown whether the fields will allow epidemiologists to determine super spreader locations on a given day by comparing sources of spread among different patients.
“We’re upping the system,” DeWine said. “We hope it doesn’t cost too much added time for the case workers that are out there in the 113 local health departments. But even after we do it, the information we’re going to get is still going to be somewhat anecdotal,” DeWine said.
No documented spread at campaign events
DeWine also on Thursday clarified a statement he made on Tuesday about coronavirus cases traced to political rallies.
“Our team told me that day (Tuesday) that they have not seen from the local health departments any indication” of spread, DeWine said. “It doesn’t mean it didn’t occur. It’s like anything else: You can have spread, you just don’t know it, from a particular event.”
Numerous campaign events have been held with or for President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden. But many more people are allowed at Trump events, and often don’t practice social distancing or wear masks.
Trump was in Toledo Sept. 21. His daughter Ivanka Trump was in Cincinnati on Friday, and son Donald Trump Jr. was in Tipp City on Sept. 30. Vice President Mike Pence was in Cincinnati on Tuesday, and Columbus and Zanesville before then.
Joe Biden was in Toledo last week.
It’s unclear how far back DeWine’s team checked.
The current system
During his twice weekly briefings, DeWine frequently provides anecdotal stories about how the coronavirus has spread. He’s described outbreaks believed to have originated at funerals and birthday parties.
But so far there have not been any figures from the state specifying the numbers or percentages of cases linked to schools, workplaces, bars, restaurants or public places — or even the percentage of cases linked to informal gatherings among friends and family, which public officials believe are the driver of the most recent surge in cases and hospitalizations.
That’s because the Ohio Disease Reporting System, the database local health departments send information to, is nearly 20 years old and isn’t searchable, but hasn’t yet been replaced.
“It was a system that was designed not for the pandemic,” DeWine said. “We’ve been trying to live with this system because local health departments have been overwhelmed, the 113 local health departments. But we made the decision that we need to, you know, get better data.”