Ohio will begin the slow process of reopening shuttered businesses on May 1, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday.
"I will fight just as hard to get this economy back – I will give it everything I have – as I have fought to save the lives of Ohioans," DeWine said at his daily coronavirus press conference.
While the governor wouldn't provide details about how this "new phase" would work, he cautioned that not all companies will open at once – instead, businesses will be phased in slowly, beginning with those best able to implement strict health guidelines.
"We all must live in a state, in a country, where COVID-19 is still here, and is in all likelihood is going to be here, and we're going to live with it, until we have immunization," DeWine said. "We don't know how long that will be. Could be a year, could be a little longer."
The state's closure of schools and stay-at-home order, which also restricted all non-essential businesses, are all set to expire at the beginning of May. It's unclear how those orders will continue after that date.
DeWine said he received a verbal report Thursday from his board of economic advisors, led by Frank Sullivan of RPM, on how to best approach reviving the economy. He listed a number of practices that businesses may need to implement, including: keeping stock of personal protective equipment, limiting visitors, screening workers for health, maintaining clear hygiene guidelines, mandatory face masks, and enforcing six-foot physical distancing.
"While COVID is out there, no plan will guarantee people will not get it," DeWine said.
As of Thursday, Ohio has 8,414 total cases of COVID-19 in 87 counties across the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Director Amy Acton says 389 people have died.
Hospitalizations have remained consistent, with 2,331 people hospitalized since the beginning of the pandemic, including 707 admitted into the ICU.
Acton and DeWine both said Ohio seems to have "flattened the curve," thanks to strict social distancing, but more data is needed to show if the disease is on the decline. Reopening state businesses will require paying attention to a number of factors like hospital admissions and testing capacity, DeWine says, and the state may adjust its approach as it goes along.
"We are not going back to life just the way it was before," Acton said.
DeWine declined to say whether schools would remain closed after May 1, but said it would be discussed next week. The state already asked the Ohio Hospital Association to come up with a plan for restarting elective procedures and surgeries, which were banned by the Health Department to save space and protective equipment.
Protesters outside the Statehouse, lawmakers inside, and even President Trump himself have all ratcheted up pressure to restart the economy.
On Monday, Trump claimed that he had "total" authority to force state to reopen businesses, threatening political consequences against governors who didn't comply. Following his comments, governors in the Northeast and West Coasts announced pacts to coordinate restarting their economies.
Ohio joined a similar pact on Thursday with six other Midwestern states. Along with DeWine, the governors of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky said they would work with experts on a "fact-based, data-driven approach to reopening our economy in a way that protects families from the spread of COVID-19."
Earlier in the day, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services reported that 158,678 Ohioans filed jobless claims in the week ending April 11. More Ohioans have filed for unemployment in the last four weeks than during the previous two years combined.