Franklin County is among four counties that saw their public health emergency levels reduced this week due to dropping rates of new COVID-19 cases.
Under Ohio's Public Health Advisory System, Franklin County is now listed as a level two "orange," the lowest it's been since the alert system launched. The county's per-capita rate of new cases currently stands at 95 per 100,000, while its average number of hospital admissions and outpatient visits have also fallen in recent weeks.
Currently, six counties are listed as level three "red" health emergencies due to extensive spread of COVID-19: Lorain, Erie, Montgomery, Preble, Mercer and Lucas.
In addition to Franklin, Trumbull, Clark and Clermont counties also dropped from red to orange this week.
Speaking at his press conference Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine said the number of Ohioans living in red counties is now the smallest since the alert system launched. Meanwhile, rural counties are continuing to see the fastest spread of COVID-19.
The state reported 1,244 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases since the pandemic began to 118,828. The death toll stands at 4,076.
The View From Schools
With many K-12 schools across the state returning to classes this week, DeWine said he's issuing an order that schools must report positive cases while not identifying those affected by name.
"Prompt reporting will prevent further spread among students and staff and let the public know what's going on," DeWine said. "I think information in the hands of parents is always good."
The governor said it's up to local school districts to define the mechanism by which parents must report a positive case. But he said the school district must report that information to the local health department within 48 hours.
Local health departments will notify the Ohio Department of Health about reported cases on a weekly basis and the state health department will post that information on its website.
"We just feel the more information that's available out there, the better," DeWine said. "The better the information that can come from the school, they're going to be able to manage that better and the school will have a much better chance of staying open."
The president of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), Alex Johnson, spoke during the briefing about their return to classes this past Monday and efforts to continue workforce training programs.
Johnson said 80% of students are learning remotely, but the college is working to increase locations where it can provide access to hands-on training. Besides current locations on the east and west sides of Cleveland, Johnson said Tri-C is looking to add locations in Slavic Village and the Euclid area.
Youngstown State University president Jim Tressel said his campus is nine days into the fall semester, and while things have been going well, they've been urging students to continue taking precautions.
"They're excited to be here, and we want to keep them here," Tressel said.
University of Findlay president Katherine Fell said classes there began August 17. Currently, five students are in isolation on campus following positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing has led to 10 additional students being placed in quarantine.
Testing And Unemployment
DeWine said the state is pausing a new type of testing it began last week in assisted living facilities, which relies on collecting saliva samples instead of utilizing a nasal swab. He said some facilities reported inconsistent results.
"We've paused collection temporarily in order to do controlled validation testing," he said.
DeWine expects results by early next week, and says they will make a decision about continuing the tests at that point.
Other efforts to expand testing continue, DeWine says, and the state will continue relying on its current protocols in regards to testing.
"We're not where we need to be nor certainly where we want to be," DeWine said. "It is a work in progress."
DeWine also said the state health department is working to extend an agreement with Massachusetts-based nonprofit Partners in Health for an additional three months at no cost. The organization has shared its expertise with the state on conducting contact tracing and best practices to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Ohioans who qualify for unemployment benefits will start receiving a federal extension of $300 a week soon. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted reported that Ohio's application for $717 million in federal funds to pay the benefit was recently approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Husted say the state department of Jobs and Family Services will administer the payments, which will be retroactive to August 1. DeWine previously indicated those payments could begin to be issued next month.
Husted also spoke about efforts to help Ohioans struggling with unemployment or underemployment during the pandemic. He shared a website where he said Ohioans can find all available information about upgrading job skills.