Ohio Up To 13 COVID-19 Cases; Kids Will Still Get Food Assistance

Gov. Mike DeWine at a coronavirus briefing Friday.
Gov. Mike DeWine at a coronavirus press conference Friday, sporting a voting sticker after casting his ballot early. The state may continue to provide briefings through the weekend. [Andy Chow / Statehouse News Bureau]

Updated: 6:11 p.m., Friday, March 13, 2020.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ohio continues to rise, including three new cases in Cuyahoga County, according to the county health commissioner. But children in need will continue to get food assistance while schools are closed for the next three weeks, state officials said Friday.

Ohio has been granted a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assist schools in continuing to provide food to children who rely on free breakfast and lunch while school buildings are closed for the next three weeks, Gov. Mike DeWine said at a Friday press conference.

The waiver was granted within 24 hours of the request, the governor said, and a day after he ordered all Ohio schools to close temporarily starting March 17 in an effort to limit the possibility of coronavirus transmission.

“The waiver allows us to package this food in whatever is the best way and take it out to the students. It is a work in progress, but we have cleared any kind of hurdle out of Washington,” DeWine said.

Individual schools and districts will be on their own to determine how to best meet the food needs of their students until school is back in session, he said. Schools will also need to determine the best way to continue education for their students based on available resources, he said.

“Each school is very, very different, so what one school can do, maybe another school cannot do,” DeWine said. “But our request to every school is that you do everything in your power to keep education going during this period of time.”

The closure is still planned to last through April 3, DeWine said, but could last beyond that if the situation changes.

Day Cares Remain Open For Now

The state will not mandate day care closures at this time, DeWine said. But parents who can keep their children at home should do so, he said.

“We’re not closing at this point, but we need to start thinking about alternatives,” DeWine said.

Effective Friday, DeWine is issuing an executive order to allow more preschool and school-age children per caretaker in day care centers, Ohio Jobs and Family Services Assistant Director Kara Wente said in a teleconference with caregivers.

Group sizes will double for those age ranges, Wente said, but day cares still cannot exceed capacity.

“We are going to exempt you from the Step Up to Quality requirements around assessments and reviews during this time period as well,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure these kids are in a healthy and safe environment. Once we get back to normal, we’ll figure the rest of it out.”

Excused absences for children enrolled in day care will double, Wente said, allowing for 20 days between January and June. Day care employees also will have 21 “pandemic days,” Wente said, which will operate like professional days, but can be used by staff members directly affected by coronavirus.

Children have been able to weather the virus well so far, DeWine said, but they have the potential to spread it to at-risk populations. Parents should plan for the potential closure of day cares, he said.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and the Ohio congressional delegation, DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted made an additional 17 requests of the administration Friday to help Ohioans in the pandemic response and containment.

The requests include asking for access to the national stockpile of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, waivers for recertification at nursing homes and hospice facilities and asking for the federal government to take on more of the medical costs usually shared with states so Ohio can put those resources into COVID-19 response instead.

Jail Visitations Suspended

Changes are also being made to protect inmates and staff at county jails and community-based correction centers, DeWine said. Visitation will not be permitted, DeWine said, much like the practice already in place at state prisons.

“A number of people, in a confined area, you need try to limit as dramatically as possible the opportunity for someone to come in and introduce the virus,” DeWine said.

The protocols will be similar to what the governor mandated at Ohio’s nursing homes as of Thursday.

Juvenile court judges are developing protocols for juvenile detention centers, he said, which should match procedures for county jails.

Don't Forget To Vote

Ohio’s March 17 Primary Day will continue as planned, DeWine said, but early voting is already underway. DeWine said he voted on Friday in Xenia.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Ohio was up to 13, as of the beginning of the press conference, said Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton. She said she expects that number to continue to rise, with Acton continuing to get text messages and updates while she was standing at the podium.

The Cleveland Clinic began its own testing program Thursday, “which is helping speed this up,” Acton said, and has the capacity to complete 500 tests per day. At the state’s labs, “disease detectives” are working in 12-hour shifts to keep tests moving, Acton said.

As of the afternoon press conference, Ohio had seen 59 negative tests and had 159 more cases under investigation, according to Acton. Those numbers continued to change over the course of the hour-long press conference.

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