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Coronavirus In Ohio: Health Department Easing Restrictions On Non-Essential Procedures

Urgent care at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, on March 31, 2020.
David Holm
Urgent care at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, on March 31, 2020.

Thousands of Ohioans whose elective procedures were postponed as a result of the state’s coronavirus outbreak will soon be able to access the treatment they need. Gov. Mike DeWine said the state is easing its restrictions on medical centers, and first priority will be given to patients awaiting surgeries.

The state announced a halt to elective procedures March 17 in hopes of preserving ICU beds and personal protection equipment, including scarce masks and gloves, for treating coronavirus patients.

At his daily coronavirus briefing Wednesday, DeWine urged physicians to talk with their patients in need of elective procedures to assess their health and quality of life to determine which procedures should move forward. Diagnostic procedures and those needed to address chronic conditions could also be considered if a patient’s health issues are interfering with their quality of life.

“Patients must be informed of the risk, of course, of contracting COVID-19, and that impact during the post-operative recovery process,” DeWine said.

The governor did not announce a timeline for reopening private medical and dental offices. 

Even as the state celebrated some hopeful news in its move to begin easing the stay-at-home and essential business orders, the DeWine administration also stressed the need to further stem the financial emergency many Ohioans are facing. Jobless claims are at record highs in Ohio, with around 1 million jobs shed since mid-March.

The state reports so far paying out more than $850 million in unemployment benefits since March 15. More than 350,000 people are still waiting for their applications to be processed and nearly 150,000 claims have been denied. 

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted acknowledged the dire economic impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic on struggling small businesses and their furloughed employees. Cities and local governments are already forecasting they may be forced to cut fire, police and other services in coming years as the impacts to their budgets mount.

"We are actively examining right now all of the different ways we can alleviate some of the restrictions around those claims in order to move them through more quickly. And so we're diligently focusing on that at this time," said Kimberly Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The state is in talks with essential businesses that have remained safely open throughout Ohio’s outbreak to compile best practices, which will help guide now-closed businesses as they resume their operations.

Husted stressed the need to mitigate the dangers of the virus to employers, employees and their customers, saying small businesses must learn to operate safely.

“You’ll be armed in this battle with masks, sanitizer, soap, disinfectant, six feet of safety and the various strategies we know work,” Husted said. 

The Ohio Department of Health on Wednesday reports 14,117 COVID-19 cases statewide, among them 13,609 cases confirmed through testing and another roughly 500 probable cases. The state says 610 people have died of COVID-19, while 2,882 have been hospitalized and 880 admitted to the ICU.

Health Department director Dr. Amy Acton said hospitals are counting more critically ill COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU with dangerously low oxygen levels. Acton said it’s important to identify positive COVID-19 cases earlier, to prevent more people from deteriorating at home and having to come to the ICU as beds fill up.

Test kits remain in short supply, but DeWine said the state continues to expand its ability test for COVID-19, to test for virus antibodies among survivors, and to conduct broader contact tracing to better identify cases and potential viral hotspots where the disease could spread quickly.

DeWine said he’s growing more “optimistic” about the state’s testing capacity, especially among health workers and other essential employees.

Ohio has confirmed its first COVID-19 case in the juvenile detention system, and state officials say contract tracing is underway to identify other young people and corrections staff who may also be infected but may not be exhibiting symptoms.

Meanwhile, Ohio launched a new mental-health assistance hotline to help anyone struggling with isolation, stress, addiction or other issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. The hotline is staffed with licensed, trained counseling professionals and is designed to provide real-time assistance as well as connect callers who need it with continuing care in their communities down the road. 

Anyone in need of emotional support is asked to call 800-720-9616 during the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day.  After 8 p.m., Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services officials say calls will be routed to a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline.

What questions do you have about Ohio's coronavirus response? Ask below as part of our Curious Cbus series.


Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding Americainitiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.