Updated: 4:36 p.m., Monday, Dec. 7, 2020
COVID-19 cases in Ohio are spiking, but the numbers might be flattening out, Gov. Mike DeWine said at a data-focused Monday press conference.
However, hospital officials tell him the numbers are still far too high, and normal healthcare operations are unsustainable with the current caseload, the governor said.
DeWine announced 9,273 new coronavirus cases in the state Monday, which he said is the sixth-highest count to date. There have been 63 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours.
“These numbers are just not sustainable, no one thinks they are,” DeWine said. “We’ve got to try to take this down, we know what works.”
The updated mask order, curfew and enforcement are working to slow the spread, even if the numbers remain high, the governor said. DeWine later said he expects to extend the state’s current 10 p.m. curfew, which is set to expire Dec. 10.
State Medical Director Bruce Vanderhoff says hospitals postponing elective surgeries – which is already happening at several Northeast Ohio healthcare providers, including the Cleveland Clinic and Akron’s Summa Health – is just the first step in measures to be taken and the state is prepared to do more.
“Going to double occupancy rooms and even pulling providers from other parts of the health system... We may have to redirect some of that, so these are very, very serious next steps that we would be looking at,” Vanderhoff said.
The governor warned about an apparent case spike coming Tuesday because antigen tests that have been backlogged while they are double-checked by the Ohio Department of Health will be added to the state’s probable case count. Previously, antigen tests were seen as too unreliable without a verified link to an exposed case or the person showing COVID-19 symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now counting positive antigen tests as probable cases, so Ohio and other states will begin adding those numbers, which will make the total cases appear higher than they have been, DeWine said.
“Tomorrow we will align with the CDC's current case definition,” DeWine said Monday. “We'll begin reflecting those tests immediately in our daily reported case counts moving forward. We currently have 12,600 positive antigen tests pending. To address these cases and our pending queue, we will apply this updated case definition of positive antigen tests dating back to Nov. 1, when these tests started increasing and these cases began to accumulate. Tomorrow we will clear those backlogged antigen tests and they will be added to our reported case counts. That will result in one-day spike in reported cases tomorrow. Obviously that will be a very significant spike.”
The backlogged tests will not all translate into new cases, DeWine clarified, noting that cases will be cross-checked, duplicate records will be removed and cases will be assigned to the dates they were originally reported. In the coming weeks, Ohio’s positivity rates and trends will also be adjusted based on the positive antigen tests, he said.
That data and other statewide data also will be available on a new InnovateOhio website, data.ohio.gov.
“One of the things that the pandemic has taught us a lot is that access to data helps in our decision making,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said.
The new data-focused website will allow the state to be more transparent and allow journalists, researchers, and the public to have access to information.
There are currently more than 100 interactive data visualizations and 213 datasets available on the website, but Husted said the goal is to have all agencies provide data, which will grow to thousands of datasets on life in Ohio, including statistics for clinical health, corrections, finance, COVID-19 and unemployment data.
“We hope this will be a central depository for all data,” Husted said. “This collaboration will help Ohio make better public policy decisions so we can better serve the people of our state.”
DeWine said the Ohio Department of Health is tracking of what’s going on in schools, as each district has made its own decision about whether to bring kids back to classrooms or have them learn from home.
About 30 percent of Ohio K-12 schools are fully in person and 44 percent of schools are fully remote, the governor reported Monday. The rest of the state’s public schools are on a hybrid model, meaning about 70 percent of Ohio students are not attending full-time in-person school.
The number of schools choosing to go remote has been increasing, DeWine said especially as the coronavirus spread has caused staffing issues.
“More and more schools are having trouble keeping bus drivers driving buses, having a hard time keeping teachers in the classroom, having a hard time with a number of kids who are quarantined,” DeWine said.
DeWine also urged Congress to pass another coronavirus relief bill, followed up on a press statement he sent out earlier on Monday and offering details on his conversations with Ohio Sens. Rob Portman (R ) and Sherrod Brown (D).
“I still feel there's a deal to be had there and people can get together. We saw the bipartisan group come together with a package. Whether that's the final package, I don't know. I just hope there is a final package,” said DeWine, a former senator himself. “Everything is the art of the possible, art of the compromise, how you put something together.”
ideastream's Glenn Forbes and Gayle S. Putrich contributed to this report.