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Infectious Disease Modeling Expert Says No Big Changes Will Happen On May 1

A closed sign is posted at Pins Mechanical duckpin bowling alley and bar in downtown Columbus in March 2020.
Karen Kasler
Ohio Public Radio
A closed sign is posted at Pins Mechanical duckpin bowling alley and bar in downtown Columbus.

Gov. Mike DeWine says the plan to restart Ohio’s economy begins on May 1, when the state's stay-at-home order is set to expire. However, one of the experts involved in the coronavirus modeling that Ohio is using to create its pandemic policy says it’ll be a slow process.

Michael Oglesbee, the director of the Ohio State Infectious Diseases Institute, said opening everything up all at once on May 1 isn’t going to happen.

“That would be reckless, because if we take our foot off the brake prematurely, there's no question that we're going to see a rebound in number of cases. So a graduated plan is what's required," Oglesbee said.

The Ohio State Infectious Diseases Institute has been working with the state on the modeling that's featured on its website and in daily press briefings. Current models show the coronavirus in Ohio will peak around April 19, with 1,600 cases per day, but new cases will continue through the summer even under strict social distancing measures.

Oglesbee said when businesses open up, there will be outbreaks, but the state needs to be proactive in finding COVID-19 cases as quickly as possible.

“So in the absence of testing, can we base it on appropriate symptoms? [For instance] flu negative, you're in a region that we know has had a problem. And now we can focus on that hotspot very strategically,” Oglesbee said.

Oglesbee said a phased-in approach can be implemented in businesses where the person density is low.

And he said those relaxed measures can be complemented with cell phone data via an app to allow for contact tracing and quarantining people in the COVID-19 hotspots that will inevitably happen.

DeWine has said the Infectious Disease Institute has been involved in the modeling that he and Health Department director Dr. Amy Acton have been using to predict the COVID-19 peak in Ohio.

The IDI has been focused on lessening the impact on hospitals by "flattening the curve," and Oglesbee said the predictions may have been high so that hospitals can make the appropriate adjustment to be prepared. The IDI has released a white paper outlining its work.

Calls to open up the economy sooner have been growing louder, from some state lawmakers to protestors who've been outside the Statehouse for at least two of DeWine's press conferences.

After that event, black curtains were installed in front of the Atrium windows and fencing was put up outside. But the next day reporters were moved to the basement at the request of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which provides security for the Statehouse.

Do you have questions about Ohio's coronavirus response?  Ask below as part of WOSU's Curious Cbus project.