Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine
Gov. Mike DeWine [Andy Chow | Statehouse News Bureau]

DeWine Introduces Public Health Advisory Alert System To Better Track COVID-19 Outbreaks

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WYSO) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says he’s not ruling out a statewide mandatory facemask order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In his Thursday briefing with reporters, DeWine called the state’s coronavirus outbreak “a crisis,” citing exponential community spread in many counties.

“This should be a wakeup call to all of us that we’re in the fight of our lives and we’re literally fighting for lives. We’re fighting for our future,” he said. “We’re fighting for our ability to be able to expand our economy and grow our economy.”

The governor said he’s following the daily coronavirus case data closely and would consider enacting a mandatory mask order should it become necessary. For now, DeWine is calling on Ohio residents to remain vigilant as many businesses reopen and summer activities ramp up, urging Ohioans to follow “common sense” guidelines to help control the spread of the virus.

“Wear a mask. Keep a distance. Be careful. Be smart,” he said.

At the briefing, DeWine rolled out a new color-coded system designed to allow public health officials, business owners and residents to better track and more quickly respond to and contain localized outbreaks.

The Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System ranks counties’ case rates at four levels of severity using seven indicators of community spread, including the number of new cases per capita, the proportion of cases not located in congregate settings, sustained increase in outpatient COVID-19-related hospital and emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and ICU bed occupancy.

Pointing to a map of the state’s counties, DeWine listed Franklin, Montgomery, Trumbull, Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Butler and Huron as among those with rapidly escalating spread of the virus.

Franklin County is seeing an “explosive” outbreak, with major clusters of new COVID-19 cases emerging in manufacturing businesses, housing complexes, child care settings and elsewhere.

“Outpatient visits have spiked and recent visits to the ER have more than doubled,” DeWine said, “so we’re watching Franklin County very carefully.”

Under the state’s new alert system, Yellow Level 1 counties meet zero or one indicator showing active exposure and spread; Orange Level 2 counties meet two or three indicators of increased exposure and spread; Red Level 3 counties meet four or five indicators showing very high exposure and spread; Purple Level 4 counties meet six or seven indicators for severe exposure and spread.

Masks In Ohio K-12 Schools

Teachers and other school personnel must wear masks when the new school year begins in the fall. Students, beginning in the third grade, must also wear face coverings unless a child has a health condition or physical limitation that would make wearing a mask unsafe.

The governor said children in kindergarten through fifth grade would also be allowed to wear masks if they can do so safely.

DeWine outlined a set of five guidelines for all K-12 schools to follow beginning this fall to keep students and staff safe from coronavirus infection.

The guidelines require school officials to vigilantly assess all students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms and require them to conduct regular temperature checks, enforce social distancing of at least six feet in all school areas, including classrooms, bathrooms, dropoff, pickup and buses, implement a face-covering policy and thoroughly clean and sanitize school buildings.

Schools would be permitted to adapt the guidelines to their individual buildings and some teachers would be allowed to use face shields if masks are impractical or would impede instruction.

The new coronavirus K-12 guidelines incorporate input from school officials and medical experts from across the state.

The guidelines also include recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics highlighting the well-documented dangers linked to children being physically out of school for extended periods of time, such as less access to healthy meals, the mandatory reporting by teachers and school staff of suspected child physical and sexual abuse, and access to social supports and regular mental health care.

“Mental health is such a big concern during these times,” Dr. Chris Peltier, president-elect of the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said at the briefing. “I know that myself, as well as my partners and other colleagues across the state have seen a marked increase in patients that are presenting with concern foranxiety and depression since the quarantine and these factors, when severe, can lead to teen suicide attempts.”