COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday that current health orders set to expire today are extended through this week as plans are being finalized for moving into the next phase of the state’s COVID-19 response.

DeWine said they hope to announce those plans, including guidance to help schools reopen, on Thursday.

“These new plans will take us into the next phase — a distinct and different phase of continuing to keep Ohio open as we head into the second half of 2020,” he said. “No one should ... speculate anything into (the extension), we’re just extending what we have right now for a few more days until we’ve totally developed the plan as we move forward.”

DeWine also announced that outdoor visits to residents of nursing homes can occur starting July 20, although he noted individual facilities will have to determine their readiness, including case status in the surrounding community and in the nursing home itself; staffing levels; access to adequate testing for residents and staff; personal protective equipment supplies; and local hospital capacity.

DeWine put the visitor restriction into place in March, with an exception for end-of-life situations, to try to prevent the spread of the virus in nursing homes.

“I know this has been gut-wrenching for families not to be able to see, in person, their loved one,” he said. “We realize that the lack of in-person engagement with family and friends who live outside of these congregate settings may significantly diminish a person’s quality of life who is in one of these facilities, making visits necessary to address the person’s emotional wellness while safely managing potential physical health risks.”

Overall, the state has been experiencing increases in not only new cases, but hospitalizations as well.

DeWine announced last week was the first week of increasing hospital utilization since late April. From June 21-27, Ohio had approximately 500 to 550 total COVID-19 patients in hospitals statewide, compared to approximately 650 COVID-19 patients in hospitals. In comparison, the number of standard hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 positive patients had peaked in late April and early May at about 1,000 and reached a low of 513 June 20.

“These are not hospital admissions each day, these are who are occupying these beds, which from the point of view being concerned long-term about having the requisite space,” DeWine said, adding ICU and ventilator use is holding pretty steady and the state does have adequate hospital capacity available at this point. “However we do know from lessons of recent history — New York City, Houston, Arizona — that this can fairly quickly change.”

DeWine said the hospital occupancy increases are most evident in the Cleveland, Dayton and Cincinnati regions.

“In other regions of the state, the COVID hospitalization occupancy had been declining but now seems to have leveled off,” he said.

The state’s positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 tests which come back positive — is 4.7%. DeWine noted the state has been averaging between a 4-6% positivity rate, so with the increase in testing being done statewide and without restrictions, the percentage of those tests coming back positive should be decreasing.

“As you expand that beyond the group of people who have symptoms to a broader group, one would expect the positivity rate to drop,” he said. “That has not happened. It has not gone up dramatically, it’s gone up a little bit, but it certainly has not dropped. That would indicate that we’re seeing an increase in COVID-19 certainly in Ohio.”

DeWine said there are two counties in the state — Hamilton and Montgomery counties — that continue to raise concerns and additional testing will be available there.

Overall, there are 51,046 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Ohio and 2,818 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. A total of 7,746 people have been hospitalized, including 1,961 admissions to intensive care units.

Overall, DeWine encouraged people to continue to wear facial masks and keep six feet of social distancing.

“We determine our future,” he said. “What people do as individuals every day is vitally important.”

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