Gov. Mike DeWine said he was looking to send a strong message about masks to some of his fellow Republican lawmakers in his speech on Wednesday. And he's also hinting that schools should prepare to go back to online learning and not to the classroom.
DeWine talked about COVID-19 in a wide-ranging hour-long interview on "The Sound of Ideas" on WCPN/ideastream this morning.
DeWine said 60% of the state’s population lives in counties in red on the state’s alert map, which means they’re required to wear masks.
In his Wednesday evening speech he said that the pandemic is not a "hoax". He admitted that he was aiming at a few vocal Republican representatives who have complained and defied those mandates on social media.
“Well, I was talking to a couple of my friends in the legislature. Yeah, I was, a couple of them. I don’t think very many members of the legislature think it’s a hoax," DeWine said.
DeWine says he’s concerned that the positivity rate of tests is going up dramatically.
Case numbers are above where they were when schools were closed in March, and many school districts haven’t even unveiled their final plans to open next month. With that, and a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people still in place, DeWine was asked why the state doesn’t just order schools to stay closed.
“We may end up there. What we’ve told the schools all summer to do is to prepare for different alternatives," DeWine said. "We've known that even if school opens back up, there may be another surge that comes on in a month or two or three and that school's going to have to go remote."
DeWine notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics has said kids should be in school if they can open safely, and said he’s concerned about households without internet access. But he admitted he’s worried about the health of teachers and staff.
While schools are under local control, the state has issued some orders, including that school employees must wear masks, and has strongly recommended students over third grade wear them too.
DeWine was also asked about nursing homes, from which 75% of all of Ohioans confirmed deaths have come.
New Ohio nursing home deaths numbers posted at https://t.co/P9ng1Igbb2: As of July 15, 1,777 deaths recorded since April 15, 45 more than last week's report. With 369 deaths before April 15, that's a total of 2,146 - or 75% of the state's 2,849 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
— Karen Kasler (@karenkasler) July 17, 2020
Testing in nursing homes has been happening with the help of the Ohio National Guard, but federal funds for their pandemic-related missions runs out August 7. Long term care facilities are working to take over testing by the end of this month.
DeWine said he'll soon be announcing a protocol for continual testing of staff in nursing homes.
“We’re working with several companies to make sure that that availability is there. So that will be a constant testing of staffs at nursing homes, and we think that is the best way to try to control this," DeWine said. "It comes into the nursing homes through the staff."
As many as 93 Ohio prison inmates and prison staff have died of COVID-19. Advocates have filed lawsuits and pushed for more releases of inmates to lower overcrowding and stop the spread of the virus.
DeWine said inmates are being released every day, as part of a standing order that inmates within 90 days of the end of the sentences are considered for release unless they’re a violent criminal or a sex offender.
“We continue to do that. But I’m not going to just open the gates. I think that that is an irresponsible thing to do," DeWine said. "We’ve been aggressive with testing. We’ve been aggressive with doing everything that we can in our prisons. I have pardoned a number of people. We’re doing the things that we can do in this regard and it is something that we focus on every single day.”
Mass testing in three Ohio prisons drove up the state's case numbers dramatically in April. At one point the Marion Correctional Institution was the nation's leading coronavirus hotspot.
Prison workers have said conditions inside the state's 28 prison facilities are chaotic because of the pandemic, that they don't have enough personal protective equipment, and that employees are working long hours without relief because of schedules disrupted by quarantines.