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DeWine: The COVID-19 fight must be fought locally

"We don't have the ability to have 'mask police' everywhere. We rely on the goodwill of the people of the state of Ohio," Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday.
Gov. Mike DeWine 10292020
Gov. Mike DeWine during the state's coronavirus update on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020.

CEDARVILLE — On yet another record-breaking day for new COVID-19 cases statewide, Gov. Mike DeWine called on local governments to start coordinating COVID "defense teams" to respond to surging infections.

Mahoning Valley government and health authorities have communicated "frequently" since the beginning to fight the novel coronavirus, said Mahoning County Public Health's Dr. James Kravec. But like DeWine, he said the real battleground is the public's perception of the pandemic.

"I see schools doing a wonderful job. I see most businesses doing a wonderful job and most people inside those businesses mostly complying [with health orders]," Kravec told Mahoning Matters Thursday. "Where I see opportunity is, really, a small percentage of the population that is not following the distancing and the masking.

"Some people don't 'buy' what we're telling them. It's hard to get through to people that don't believe the message."

On Thursday, Ohio reported 3,590 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, far surpassing the state's previous record for new cases reported in a single day.

The Ohio Public Health Advisory System map was updated to show 43 of Ohio's 88 counties at level 3 "red" alert status. Of those 88 counties, 83 are considered to have a high incidence of virus transmission by federal guidelines, including Mahoning County and, now, Trumbull too.

"The virus is raging throughout the state of Ohio. There's no place to hide," DeWine said during his Thursday address. He also again urged Ohioans to rethink holiday plans.

"Halloween parties are fun but they make no sense this year. Let's put it off until next year," he said. "Thanksgiving's gotta' be different. Christmas has gotta' be different."

Dr. Richard Lofgren, CEO of University of Cincinnati Health, said his southern Ohio metro area in late September had about 90 people hospitalized for COVID-19. As of Thursday, about 260 were hospitalized.

Though virus deaths have not spiked alongside hospitalizations — as medical professionals have gotten better at treating the virus, he said — he's concerned about hospital capacity should the surge sustain.

"If it were to double or triple, it will squeeze out non-COVID care," Lofgren said.

Between late August and mid-September, Mahoning County saw the lowest-ever numbers of new cases and hospitalizations per day, according to Mahoning County Public Health's COVID-19 dashboard. Though new cases have skyrocketed — the county marked its highest single-day total, 67 new cases, on Oct. 15 — daily hospitalizations have remained in the single digits.

"I think we have capacity now. We actively monitor this every day and, really, the numbers on the Mahoning County dashboard are really the best indicators," Kravec said. "As a level-1 trauma center, we are prepared for increased numbers.

"But we need to make sure we reduce the hospitalizations so we continue to keep room for the people who are sick."

ICU bed occupancy in Mahoning County has hovered between about 65 percent and 75 percent for weeks, according to ODH. That includes non-COVID patients. But the portion of COVID-19 patients in the ICU rose steadily from 5.5 percent on Oct. 14 to 12.6 percent on Monday.

Mahoning County on Tuesday reported 78.5 percent ICU occupancy, nearly meeting the state's 80 percent risk threshold under the Ohio Public Health Advisory System map. Currently, the county meets four of the seven indicators.

Trumbull County this week was elevated to level 3 “red” alert status under the Ohio Public Health Advisory System map, as the county now meets four of the system's seven risk indicators.

DeWine on Thursday said the state is relying on Ohioans' sense of personal responsibility to slow the spread of coronavirus, rather than "mask police."

"Ohioans have been able to dramatically increase mask-wearing. We saw this back in July when we had a statewide mask order," resulting in 85 percent to 90 percent compliance in some areas, he said.

"When we saw that, we saw cases go down. We can do this again," DeWine said. "We don't have the ability to have 'mask police' everywhere. We rely on the goodwill of the people of the state of Ohio.

"Once they see what [masks have] been doing in their community, we're going to see mask compliance go up."

Other news

• According to the latest figures Thursday from the Ohio Department of Health, the state is reporting 208,937 confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus. There have been 3,960 confirmed or suspected cases in Mahoning County; 2,451 in Trumbull County; and 2,227 in Columbiana County.

• Statewide, there have been 5,275 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 deaths, including 287 in Mahoning County; 136 in Trumbull; and 88 in Columbiana. Mahoning County's 286 reported COVID-19 deaths on Thursday was fifth among Ohio's 88 counties; Cuyahoga County had the most with 686.

• In nearby counties: Stark, 4,267 cases and 185 deaths; Portage, 1,828 cases and 68 deaths; and Ashtabula, 806 cases and 48 deaths.

• The Youngstown Phantoms' first opponent in their 12th USHL season has been sidelined by coronavirus. The Phantoms' Nov. 6 season opener was scheduled against the Chicago Steel, but that team has been benched following a coronavirus outbreak.

The Dana Symphony Orchestra, led by Kivie Cahn-Lipman, will present a Halloween concert, premiering at 7 p.m. Saturday on the Cliffe College of Creative Arts' YouTube channel. Recorded at Stambaugh Auditorium, students will be dressed in Halloween costumes to carry out the holiday theme.

•  Bidding is open on the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley’s PNC Champions Holiday Auction. The online auction is an alternative to United Way’s annual in-person Champions Among Us event, which was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. You can bid on United Way’s BidPal virtual bidding platform.

• The classic ballet "The Nutcracker," normally the Ballet Western Reserve's holiday offering, will be presented in a new way as "A Nutcracker Drive-In" at the Eastwood Field parking area on the big screen Dec. 18-19 at 7:30 p.m and on Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $45 per car went on sale on Wednesday at 9 a.m. on the ballet's website.

Trick-or-treating will continue as normal for most of Mahoning Valley this Halloween despite the CDC guidelines which list the tradition as a high-risk activity. A few cities have canceled traditional trick-or-treating or created alternative plans.

• Initial claims for unemployment compensation remain above 17,000 and essentially unchanged over the past two weeks. Ohioans filed 17,531 claims for the week ending Oct. 24, just down from the 17,598 filed the previous week, according to the Department of Job and Family Services. To date during the pandemic, the state has paid $7.1 billion in unemployment compensation payments to more than 830,000 Ohioans.

• According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday, there are 202,876 COVID-19 cases in the state which have led to 8,762 deaths. The state said the recovery rate is 77 percent. There have been 1,073 confirmed or suspected cases in Mercer County and 27 deaths; 903 cases in Lawrence County and 34 deaths.

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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