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Ohio Officials Promise More Coronavirus Tests, Masks, Jobless Benefits

Gov. Mike DeWine at the podium for his daily coronavirus response briefing. [Andy Chow, Ohio Statehouse News Bureau]
Gov. Mike DeWine at the podium for his daily coronavirus response briefing.

More coronavirus testing and more protective masks will soon be available statewide as Ohio officials work to continue flattening Ohio’s COVID-19 curve.

At his daily briefing Wednesday, Gov. Mike DeWine also announced further steps towards easing the statewide order closing all but essential businesses.

Dozens of confirmed COVID-19 deaths have been recorded across the state in just the last few days, with confirmed cases now reported in 87 of Ohio’s 88 counties.


Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ohio

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton called the numbers, “the tip of the iceberg,” citing the lack of widespread coronavirus testing for all but those considered highest-risk, such as health care workers, as part of the issue with the numbers.

As part of the effort to expand coronavirus testing to more Ohioans, DeWine announced a new program aimed at speeding test results.

Based at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, the program would create 3D-printed test swabs, which are currently in short supply, and produce them at a Toledo manufacturing facility. The program is on track to produce and distribute as many as 200,000 test kits by the end of April, DeWine promises.

The governor also announced the expansion of an agreement with Columbus-based Battelle to sanitize and distribute the reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) to first responders.

Under the plan, State Highway Patrol deputies would collect used and boxed N95 masks from law enforcement, fire departments and any state patrol post, deliver them to Battelle for cleaning, and then return them to first responders for free within a couple of days. Public safety officials are expected to announce specific guidelines for properly packaging the masks for transport to Battelle in the coming days.

Unemployment System Still Problematic

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted acknowledged the ongoing delays and backlogs in the state’s unemployment-benefits system that are delaying payments to struggling Ohioans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ohio is seeing record-breaking numbers of unemployment applications, with more jobless claimed filed over the last month than in the last two years. Husted said he is working with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) officials to build capacity, resolve technical issues and add additional call and online application capacity to process more emergency claims under the federal CARES disaster aid program.

ODJFS pledged to improve customer service to help the thousands of Ohioans left jobless and struggling as a result of the state’s essential business order and layoffs related to the coronavirus pandemic, Husted said.

“We and they hear you, and they are adding capacity. But the bottom line is this won’t stop improving until everyone is served,” Husted said.

Husted also said help is on the way for contract workers paid with 1099s. ODJFS is expected to launch a dedicated online tool to handle those unemployment applications, with early applications open by the end of next week and processing beginning May 15.

Officials urge applicants to include the mass-layoff code “2000180” in the application process to help speed the verification and processing of claims, saying all claims will be backdated the applicants’ date of unemployment. The code bypasses the employer verification process, Husted said, speeding up processing time.