Ohio Department of Health

Nearly every day, updates are taking place locally, statewide and across the nation as individuals navigate a world battling the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak.

The numbers climb nearly every day and will likely continue to climb as more and more people get tested.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state of Ohio listed 20,969 cases with 20,072 of those being confirmed cases and 897 of them probable COVID-19 cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded case definition. Deaths from COVID-19 in Ohio moved to 1,135 with 1,038 of those being confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 97 probable deaths from COVID-19, according to the CDC expanded death definition. There have been 3,956 hospitalizations in Ohio with 1,123 of those being admitted into the intensive care unit. Ohio has reported COVID-19 deaths in 63 of the state’s 88 counties.

Locally, Pike County’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases climbed from three to four when the Pike County General Health District learned of a fourth case Monday evening (see accompanying story in this edition). The individual in question works outside of Pike County. The four confirmed cases include two males and two females in the age range of 35-45. A total of 124 individuals in Pike County have been tested with 118 of those coming back negative. Three tests are currently pending.

Ohio has a plan in place for increased testing, according to Governor Mike DeWine. A new partnership announced last week between the state of Ohio, Thermo Fisher, and ROE Dental Scientific will allow for a steady supply of testing reagent and swabs. Ohioans will be tested on a priority scale featuring three tiers. Those hospitalized and healthcare workers will be tested first, followed by additional groups outlined in the plan.

“It’s important to remember that testing is only one response to this virus. It allows us to quickly identify individuals infected with COVID-19, promptly isolate them, and determine who they’ve been in close contact with to minimize the spread,” said Governor DeWine. “Increased testing capacity does not replace infection control and prevention practices such as social distancing, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and sanitizing high-touch surfaces.”

Since the state shutdown in mid-March, the operations of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles were cut down to a minimal level and many local offices were not open, including the one in Pike County.

On Monday, Lt. Governor Jon Husted announced, although opening dates for individual locations have not yet been finalized, Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle (BMV) deputy registrars around the state may begin reopening as early as later this month.

Upon reopening, every deputy registrar will offer online the Ohio BMV’s Get In Line, Online program that was launched by Governor DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted as a pilot project last year. A partnership between InnovateOhio and the Ohio BMV has been expanding the project to locations statewide. There are currently 48 deputy registrars that had been offering Get in Line, Online, and all other locations that had not yet offered the service will offer it to customers upon reopening.

“So far, this system has saved Ohioans nearly 9,000 hours of wait time,” said Lt. Governor Husted. “In order to reduce lines and the time each Ohioan has to physically spend in the BMV, we are working with InnovateOhio to expand the program throughout the state by the end of May so that every open BMV will offer this service.”

In preparation for reopening, deputy registrars are also reactivating and hiring staff, making accommodations to their facilities to ensure social distancing, and ensuring that safety measures are in place, such as cough/sneeze shields, at customer-facing workstations.

Any Ohioan who has been driving on expired plates or a driver’s license that came during the statewide closure has received an extension of that deadline, and will not be penalized for it. Husted encouraged anyone who could to use the online services.

On Tuesday, DeWine and Husted began announcing budget cuts that would be taking place during the next two months.

“Prior to the pandemic, Ohio’s economy was strong. We now have figures for the month of April. Our revenues have taken a dramatic turn. That is a turnaround going the wrong way that is close to a billion dollars,” said DeWine. “The forecast indicates to me that we need to make significant changes to our state budget to prepare for the coming months.”

DeWine explained that Ohio has a two-year budget cycle and is starting the 11th month of our 24-month cycle.

“The budget needs to be balanced,” said DeWine. “Unlike the federal government, we have to balance our budget.”

He followed that with announcing $775 million dollars in cuts in the next two months including: Medicaid: $210 million; K12 Foundation Payment Reduction: $300 million; other education budget line items: $55 million; higher education: $110 million; and all other agencies: $100 million.

“I have asked each agency director to continue to identify savings in their budgets for the remainder of this fiscal year and next fiscal year. Moving forward, all state agencies will continue the hiring freeze as well as the freeze on pay increases and promotions,” said DeWine.

Additionally, state agencies will continue to operate under the travel freeze already in effect, with exceptions for those staff providing direct response to the emergency. Further, agencies will immediately freeze new requests for contract services, except for those services that are necessary for emergency response, and will strictly scrutinize the continued need for those services. And, agencies will suspend purchasing authority for non-essential purchases with continuation of only mission critical contractual services.

“These decisions are difficult and unpleasant, but they are my responsibility as your governor to make. COVID-19 will be here with us for a while,” said DeWine. “Making difficult budget decisions will help us down the road. I have decided to not draw down the money from the rainy day fund for the next two months. We are going to need that money for next year and possibly for the year after.”

Husted said most of the money in the budget is to serve other people through Medicaid and the school systems, which results in cuts to those services.

“Any cut to education is difficult,” said DeWine. “We have an obligation to do our best to protect the most vulnerable. We need to do everything that we can to try to ensure stability in funding to our schools. We have an obligation to schools, students and parents. If we do not make these cuts now, the cuts we would have to make next year would be more dramatic.”

For more information on Ohio’s response to COVID-19, including tips for prevention of the disease and slowing its spread, visit coronavirus.ohio.gov or call 1-833-4-ASK-ODH.

Email at jbillings@newswatchman.com; follow on Twitter @ Julie_Billings

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