Summit County confirmed its first coronavirus death Thursday, but public health officials are not releasing any details.
The state’s health director, meanwhile, said although Ohio is flattening the curve of infections, there still could be 6,000 to 8,000 additional COVID-19 cases.
And Gov. Mike DeWine said state projections show the number of cases won’t hit its peak until May 1, raising the possibility that the stay-at-home order could be extended — potentially for weeks.
DeWine said he would sign a coronavirus relief bill passed by the General Assembly on Friday. It includes moving Ohio’s scuttled March 17 primary to a mail-only primary ending April 28.
The governor said he is not yet prepared to make a decision on whether schools will stay closed for the remainder of the academic year, but he emphasized that remains a possibility as new cases emerge and the death toll rises.
Dr. Erika Sobolewski, medical director of the Summit County health department, said a patient in his or her 70s died Wednesday.
As of noon Thursday, there were 50 confirmed cases in Summit County, Sobolewsk said at the department’s twice-weekly coronavirus update. There are 23 females and 27 males, with ages ranging from 21 to 94.
Fifteen of those patients are hospitalized. Three long-term care facilities have cases, the department reported.
Summit County Public Health officials refused to give more information about the first death, including gender, whether the person had any other underlying health conditions and whether the person was hospitalized, at home or in a long-term care facility, saying those details are protected under federal health privacy rules.
The Summit County Medical Examiner is not involved in coronavirus deaths because they are considered to be deaths by a natural cause.
Public health officials on Wednesday said they also would not be releasing the names of nursing homes with confirmed coronavirus cases, adding that they only released the name of the first nursing home with a case, Ohio Living Rockynol, because that facility wanted to identify itself and put its own news release out before the county.
The county will not be releasing the names of the other two nursing homes, Summit County Public Health spokeswoman Marlene Martin said. Patients’ families at those facilities will be notified of the COVID-19 case by the facilities.
State total grows
There were 867 confirmed cases statewide as of 2 p.m. Thursday — a 23% increase from the previous day — according to the Ohio Department Health. Statewide, there have been 15 deaths, 223 hospitalizations and 91 intensive care unit admissions. Patients range in age from 1 to 94; 53% are male and 47% are female.
Dr. Amy Acton, director of the state heath department, said at a Statehouse briefing in Columbus that cases have now been confirmed in 60 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
The state’s newest tally of cases, which Acton emphasized does not always match up to local data because of lag in reporting time, shows 49 cases in Summit County, 24 in Medina, 16 in Stark, eight in Portage and two in Wayne.
Acton said initial data indicate the state’s social-distancing efforts are alleviating some of the demand on the health care system, allowing it to prepare for the expected jump in cases to come. But people need to continue to follow the state’s order to remain at home for the steps to continue to be effective as hospitals prepare for an onslaught of new cases.
“We know with the lack of testing, we are not seeing all the cases out there,” Acton said, adding tests are largely reserved for high-risk patients and medical workers. “We’ve got to clamp down even more.”
Anesthesia machines and other medical devices are being reconfigured into ventilators and steps taken to allow two patients to be served by one ventilator, she said.
Acton said she does not want to ponder a worst-case scenario in which the hospital system is so slammed that, if confronted with a shortage of ventilators, doctors could have to decide which life has better prospects of survival.
“That is one of the things that is scariest,” she said. “We are doing everything we can to avoid this. This is the thing that keeps me up at night.”
Impact on economy, prisons
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the state’s resources for responding to unemployment and business questions have been overwhelmed, with personnel struggling to keep up with the high volume of web traffic and calls.
The forced closure of businesses during the pandemic is costing hundreds of thousands of Ohioans their paychecks. The number of unemployment benefit claims filed last week represent the loss of 3.2% of all jobs in Ohio.
And with nearly 49,000 inmates packed in state prisons, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has started providing daily updates on its efforts to prevent coronavirus from infecting institutions.
The corrections system reported it has tested 16 inmates in four prisons, with 12 testing negative. Four inmates whose test results are pending are in isolation. The Department of Youth Services reported administering one test, which was negative.
Summit County response
At the Summit County briefing, Health Commissioner Donna Skoda emphasized the importance of essential businesses following social distancing and sanitizing guidelines while continuing operations.
She spoke in general terms about the first shipment of personal protective equipment that the county has received from a national stockpile.
Skoda said the allotment received was just gloves, gowns and masks, but did not provide numbers of items received other than to say that the supplies are limited.
Two-thirds of the shipment will go to hospitals and the remainder will be distributed to first responders.
Skoda said that those using gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment should dispose of those items properly following reports of parking lots being found littered with them.
She said the department has received many complaints about businesses that are not following guidelines or appear to be allowing workspaces to be used as social gathering points.
Beacon Journal staff writer Betty Lin-Fisher and Randy Ludlow of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.
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