Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine today announced that Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton will extend an order until at least May 1 for state residents to stay at home whenever possible in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The order comes as the Ohio Department of Health's daily report of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths shows a continued tightening of the virus' grip on the state.
Eighty one people in Ohio have died from the virus — including 16 new deaths reported today, a 25 percent increase. The state has confirmed more than 2,900 cases of COVID-19 to date.
DeWine and Acton say they expect a surge of the virus to come, with infections peaking sometime between mid-April and mid-May. Acton has estimated as many as 8,000-10,000 Ohioans a day could become infected at the spread's peak.
"We are going to continue to see the numbers go up no matter what we do, but we can do all we can to keep the numbers down," DeWine said in a briefing today.
DeWine has taken a number of steps to limit the spread of the virus by restricting public gatherings and places where the infection could spread. On March 23, he issued the state's stay at home order, which requires Ohioans to stay inside unless they're going to get food, medicine or exercise. Non-essential businesses are to remain closed under the order.
Before DeWine extended it, the stay at home order was set to expire Monday. The extension of the order comes with a new provision — a requirement that businesses remaining open set a maximum number of people allowed inside at a given time. The state will not set that number, DeWine said, but will rely on businesses to do so in a way that allows customers to observe the six feet of social distancing the state has requested they observe.
The economic shutdown resulting from the pandemic and DeWine's orders has caused roughly 500,000 Ohioans to file for unemployment benefits.
The social distancing measures are designed to buy the state more time to double or even triple its hospital capacity to prepare for the flood of cases expected to come, health officials say. Currently, the state's hospitals are at roughly 60 percent capacity — but health experts estimate they will quickly become overwhelmed if contagion of the virus surges.
Locally, the City of Cincinnati is working to convert the cavernous Duke Energy Convention Center into a hospital for those recovering from issues less serious than COVID-19 in order to free up hospital space for patients suffering from the virus.