Ohio's Department of Health has issued a public health order telling medical centers to stop all elective surgeries and other procedures, in an effort to free up staff and equipment for dealing with COVID-19 coronavirus.
"All non-essential or elective surgeries and procedures that utilized PPE [personal protective equipment] should not be conducted," the order reads.
The state on Tuesday reported 67 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 16 counties. Of those cases, 17 people have been hospitalized.
"A non-essential surgery," the order specifies, "is a procedure that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient."
Procedures that qualify as essential are those that can save a life, preserve a limb or an organ, prevent metastasis of a disease, or reduce risk of more severe symptoms.
Andy Thomas, medical director for the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, says those guidelines emerged from a working group of medical experts advising the DeWine administration.
Health Department director Amy Acton said the state's efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus – which recently included postponing Tuesday's election, restricting gatherings of more than 50 people, and closing all bars and dine-in restaurants – are necessary to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
"There's no scenario now by which we won't have a surge," Acton said. "But if we did nothing, the estimates were that 2.2 million Americans would die."
Officials say that capacity will become a problem soon, with growing demand for beds, ventilators and materials for doctors. Hospitals are currently operating at 75% capacity, says Ohio Hospitals Association CEO Mike Abrams, which is normal for this time of year.
The concern, Acton says, is not just an influx of new COVID-19 cases, but also other emergencies or pressing procedures that may emerge - including gun violence and pregnancy-related operations.
Acton added that Ohio has received $15 million in federal public health funding. Of that, $10 million will be distributed to about public health departments around the state.
DeWine also acknowledged that Ohio has $2.7 billion in its Rainy Day Fund, which has been put aside for emergencies like this one. However, he says he will first consult with legislative leaders before tapping those funds.
The age range of Ohio's COVID-19 patients is 14-86 years old, with a median age of 48. Of the cases, 26 are females and 41 are males.
At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine defended the public health emergency order issued the night before to close polls. He said that thousands of poll workers were set to show up Tuesday – many of whom were over the age of 65, or who may already have the disease and not know it.
"Our goal is that everyone who wants to vote will be able to vote," DeWine said. "Our goal is that nobody has to choose between their constitutional health and having to risk their health."
DeWine said that his administration didn't expect a Franklin County judge to deny the lawsuit attempting to postpone the election, but for the sake of time decided not to call on the Ohio legislature to legally extend the election. And appealing the judge's decision, DeWine continued, would have left election workers with just a few hours' notice.
"We did what we need to do to protect the people of the state of Ohio," DeWine said.
In the three states that moved forward with voting Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted says that election officials struggled with poll workers not showing up, as well as confusion over enforcing capacity limits.
DeWine said there are "good solutions out there" to replace Ohio's primary election, either through General Assembly or the courts. He clarified that the legislature is likely exempt from the health order banning gatherings of other 50 people, and that lawmakers can vote while honoring guidelines on "social distancing."
As he previously recommended, DeWine suggested that in-person voting happens June 2, although there's "nothing magic" about that date. No matter when the primary is set, he urges lawmakers to offer ample opportunity for people to request and submit absentee mail-in ballots.
"I will insist upon a significant period of time so that people have ample opportunity to vote," DeWine said.
The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable.
- Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
Ohio's coronavirus call center is open to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The hotline number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634.