Governor Mike DeWine had multiple questions to respond to in his weekly COVID-19 press conference on Thursday, Feb. 11. Will the curfew be rescinded? Why were so many deaths undercounted? What does the state plan to do following reports of thousands of fraudulent unemployment claims? Will students still be taking standardized tests with COVID still being an ongoing issue impacting the education sector?
In regards to the 11 p.m. statewide curfew, it has ended as of noon and will not be extended. Ohio’s hospitalization numbers have remained low enough that DeWine has not renewed the curfew. This does not mean that if numbers rise again that the curfew will not be reinstated. Recently, hospitalization numbers have been used to determine if curfew hours would be pushed back later or not. Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator meaning that the numbers will rise weeks after cases do when those who became infected reach the point of needing care. When asked if the same method will be used for reinstatement of curfew, DeWine said that decisions on future curfew implimentation will be made as trends are seen in the data with no specific indicator mentioned. COVID-19 is still a risk and vaccines are still not widely available. Masks will still need to be worn in public and social distancing is encouraged.
An increased number of deaths, approximately 4,000, were reported this week. According to DeWine, this is due to a reconciliation issue from the Ohio Department of Health’s death data. While the issue is being rectified, increased death numbers will follow for the upcoming week. Feb. 11th’s numbers include about 650 additional deaths from this reconciliation.
The Ohio Public Health Advisory System map still remains unchanged for the third week in a row. Vinton County has held a Level 2 Public Emergency with 3 other southeastern Ohio counties. Jackson County still sits at a Level 3 Public Emergency.
Schools will have to be back in session either in person or in a hybrid capacity by March 1st as this was a condition of schools receiving the vaccines for staff members. DeWine explained that by following mask protocols and social distancing guidelines, continuing vaccinations, and properly disinfecting classrooms that students will be safe to return to in person learning.
The increase in unemployment claims was up over 200 percent with a third suspected as fraudulent according to Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted. Those claims are being investigated and funds will be sent to those claims that were legitimate once they are deemed as such. Further detail will be provided by a fraud expert in the upcoming weeks.
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff insisted that the current vaccines are considered to be effective against the newer strains of COVID-19. He explained the variants are making the virus more contagious as a lower level of exposure is needed to get someone sick. Wearing masks with multiple layers or surgical masks is encouraged as well as wearing the mask snugly in public to avoid becoming exposed to the more contagious strains.
Standardized testing seems to be likely to go forward but with changes as to how schools will be policed based on the results. DeWine explained that his opinion aligns with Senate President Matt Huffman by stating, “Nothing wrong with having a test...but having consequences for schools, that’s a different question. We’ll consult with the legislature.”
Reporter and producer at Ohio Public Radio Jo Ingles asked DeWine what he has to say to those who are losing hope seeing younger people gaming the system to get vaccines early and the continued slow roll out for unemployment checks.
He responded, “ We know it’s not perfect. If I wanted to get a vaccine this week and couldn’t, I would be just as frustrated. We are going to continue to focus every single day on the most vulnerable people.” There are no plans to include younger age groups below 65 until seniors who want the vaccine can get it.