COLUMBUS -- Gov. Mike DeWine said the state plans no "punitive action" against Richland County if it becomes Ohio's first "purple," or level four, county on Thursday under the COVID-19 Public Health Advisory System.
"These color codes are really meant to inform people about the nature of the problem," DeWine said during his Tuesday press conference in response to a question from Richland Source.
"It really means nothing as far as what the state is telling them to do," the governor said, just hours after Richland County commissioners expressed frustration the state was providing no information regarding the designation.
"Going purple has no consequences or sanctions from the State of Ohio," DeWine said.
However, according to the Ohio Department of Health website, a level four county shows "severe exposure and spread" and residents should "only leave home for supplies and services."
Richland County "triggered" six of the county's seven indicators last week and was placed on the state's "watch" list. If it meets six or seven indicators this week, it will be designated "purple" on Thursday.
One of the factors driving the surge are recent COVID-19 outbreaks at the Richland Correctional Institution and the Mansfield Correctional Institution.
The governor said the rankings system excludes prison inmates from some of the indicators, including new cases per capita and sustained increases in new cases.
However, inmates are counted in four of the indicators, including local emergency room visits, outpatient visits, local hospitalizations and local ICU bed usage.
At least two local inmates were hospitalized locally on Tuesday, according to Richland County Commissioner Marilyn John.
DeWine said the fact Richland County is already "red," or level three, should be an indicator that spread of the virus is a problem in the area.
"We fully realize there is a prison there and the citizens of a community are not responsible for what goes on inside a prison," DeWine said, though he added prison staff members who live in the county do have an impact on the ratings system.
DeWine said the system is designed to alert people that is significant spread in a county, saying other indicators used by the system look at medical facility usage, including visits to hospital emergency rooms and doctors' offices.
"These are just indicators that we have a problem. That's all we are trying to do," DeWine said.
According to the Ohio Dept. of Health website, "The Public Health Advisory Alert System is a color-coded system designed to supplement existing statewide orders through a data-driven framework to assess the degree of the virus’ spread and to engage and empower individuals, businesses, communities, local governments, and others in their response and actions."
Richland County commissioners complained Tuesday morning local governments are not "empowered" when the state fails to share information.
"We are two days away from the the governor's office and Ohio Department of Health potentially taking us to purple. And we don't have an answer yet to what that means. The health department can not answer that question," Commissioner Marilyn John said.
Governor DeWine noted today that although COVID-19 hospital admissions in Ohio had been declining since peaking in mid-July, hospitalizations are now trending upwards with an increasing number of hospitalizations in rural Ohio.
The average age of hospitalized patients has also gone up in recent weeks. Ohioans 60 and older now account for approximately 70 percent of COVID hospital admissions as compared to 50 percent of hospitalizations in July.
"As we said earlier in August and September, spread among the young and healthy will eventually impact those who are older and more vulnerable, which is why it is so very important that younger Ohioans do all they can to prevent spread," said Governor DeWine.
Regionally, the western part of the state has been seeing an increase in hospital admissions and relatively fewer hospital admissions have been occurring in northeast and central Ohio.
All regions of the state currently have adequate hospital capacity.
Governor DeWine today reminded Ohioans to continue to take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He stressed that President Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis should serve as a reminder that anyone can become ill with coronavirus and that citizens should remain diligent in their efforts to prevent virus spread.
"Each of us can demonstrate our love and respect for our fellow Ohioans by wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings, keeping at least 6 feet of distance from others, and frequently washing our hands. This is in our control," Gov. DeWine said. "This virus is an enemy of our freedom, but by doing these things to fight back against it, we'll keep our kids in school and our economy moving forward. All of us working together will allow us to live with this virus until the time when it is gone."
Governor DeWine announced today that he has authorized a study focused on school students who are quarantined due to meeting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definition of close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
"We have heard anecdotally that most quarantined students are not getting sick, but I believe that it is important to have data and evidence before considering a change to the recommended guidance," Gov. DeWine said.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY RELIEF PACKAGE
Governor DeWine announced that his administration is working closely with the Ohio General Assembly on a plan to distribute CARES Act funding to help citizens who are struggling to pay their rent, mortgage, or water and sewage utility bills. The plan will also focus on providing aid to small businesses and non-profits.
More information on the economic recovery relief package is expected to be released soon.
Lt. Governor Husted recognized Phoenix Quality Manufacturing for their work to produce N95 masks, creating 40 jobs in Jackson County. The facility will convert 23,000 square feet of the former Elemetal (Ohio Precious Metals) facility into an N95 mask manufacturing operation.
The project has received a $250,000 JobsOhio revitalization grant and a $500,000 PPE grant from the Ohio Development Services Agency. They also received support from the Governor’s Office of Appalachia, Appalachian Growth Capital, and various investors. Phoenix Quality Manufacturing plans to start producing masks in November for local, state, and international customers.
CURRENT COVID-19 DATA
There are 161,299 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Ohio and 4,947 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. A total of 15,972 people have been hospitalized, including 3,367 admissions to intensive care units. In-depth data can be accessed by visiting coronavirus.ohio.gov.
Video of today's full update, including versions with foreign language translation, can be viewed on the Ohio Channel's YouTube page.
For more information on Ohio's response to COVID-19, visit coronavirus.ohio.gov or call 1-833-4-ASK-ODH.