Ohio Struggles to Contain Virus as Infections, Deaths Climb

Shoppers leave Walmart in Ashtabula Township, Ohio, in the early morning on Black Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. (Warren Dillaway/The Star-Beacon via AP)

(CN) — Despite the glimmer of hope offered by the impending arrival of a vaccine, Ohio’s Covid-19 infection and death numbers continue to escalate after the Thanksgiving holiday, with more than 10,000 new cases reported on Wednesday alone.

The state has recorded an average of more than 7,000 new daily infections since Nov. 1, along with an average of 65 deaths per day over the last three weeks.

According to the Ohio Department of Health’s Covid-19 data tracker, 7,298 Ohioans have died from the respiratory virus to date, with over 50% of those deaths among people over the age of 80. Each of the 88 counties in the state has at least one confirmed Covid-19 death.

Republican Governor Mike DeWine announced on Wednesday that the state’s 10 p.m. curfew order would be extended past the previous cutoff of Thursday. He said that despite the high infection numbers, cases are “somewhat flattening out, we hope.”

“The rate of increase is certainly slowing down, as far as the cases,” DeWine said during a press conference.

The governor struck a hopeful tone, saying increased enforcement of a statewide mask mandate – especially in retail settings – will help to further slow the surge of infections.

DeWine reminded Ohioans, however, that they cannot drop their guard upon the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine shrugs his shoulders in response to a reporter’s question about him testing positive for Covid-19 in August. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

“Even though the vaccine is almost here,” he said, “we know it’s going to take a while to get it out, and we know the next few months are going to be tough.”

Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, said “skyrocketing” case numbers should concern everyone in the Buckeye State.

“To be frank,” he said in a phone interview, “I think we’re still expecting the Thanksgiving surge to really mount over the next week.”

Gonsenhauser, who was involved in the creation of Covid-19 safety protocols for students at the Ohio State University, said that while hospitalizations are up across the Columbus region, ICU and death numbers likely won’t catch up until the next several weeks.

“This is a disease that typically takes a little bit of time to progress,” he said.

Gonsenhauser talked about the Wexner Center’s efforts to stay a step ahead of rising case numbers, saying his team at OSU has increased capacity not only to allow for more Covid patients, but to maintain standards of care for normal inpatient procedures.

Community spread is seemingly the largest issue facing Ohioans, exemplified by reports that R&B singer Trey Songz hosted an indoor concert in Columbus last weekend that was attended by more than 500 people.

A statement released Sunday by the Ohio Investigative Unit, or OIU, said its officers observed numerous health order violations at the Aftermath club in the state’s capital.

“The dance floor and stage area, as well as the bar and table sections were crowded with patrons. Patrons were congregated throughout the premises with no attempts to maintain social distancing and no physical barriers in place,” the agency said. “Most of the crowd and the employees were not wearing facial coverings.”

OIU cited the club for improper conduct and disorderly activities, while a judge granted Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein’s motion for a restraining order to temporarily shut down the venue.

DeWine has been scrutinized repeatedly by his own party for his response to the pandemic, and a group of elected officials even went so far as to file articles of impeachment against the governor.

State Representative John Becker, R-Clermont County, filed 12 articles of impeachment on Nov. 30, alleging DeWine exceeded the scope of his powers as governor when he issued various executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The impeachment effort has little momentum, however, and DeWine urged Becker and others like him to take the virus more seriously.

“At some point, this foolishness has got to stop,” the governor said. “I’m not talking about most Ohioans – just a small number of people who for whatever reason just continue to think and act like this is some big joke and this is all some fantasy.”

Gonsenhauser urged Ohioans to take precautions to keep themselves and others safe but admitted “there is no reason we can point to [as to] why the current trend would change.”

“It’s still winter,” he said, “we’re still indoors, people are still feeling fairly apathetic and complacent about many of the precautions. … The concern is that without behavioral changes in the general public, we will see the current trend potentially continue.”

Change is needed, according to Gonsenhauser, who said he hopes the upward trend in infection numbers will spur Ohioans to change course and follow public health guidelines.

“That would turn the tide at this point,” he said. “This is all about the choices we are making as individuals. It’s the choices we are making to be committed to the health of the community around us.”

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