Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday urged Ohioans to continue the social distancing measures that have slowed both the economy and the spread of the coronavirus, even as protesters outside his window disrupted his daily press conference with chants of “O-H-I-O, Acton’s got to go!”
The protesters opposed public health orders signed by Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton.
“I will guarantee you, we’re not going to keep these orders on one day longer that we have to. What I’m asking Ohioans to do is hang in there. All the evidence that we have indicates if we don’t hang in there, if we don’t continue to do what we’re doing, it’s going to cost a lot of lives and it’s going to delay our ability to economically recover,” DeWine said.
DeWine and Acton promised to soon reveal a full plan to put Ohio on the road to recovery and lift the orders that have closed schools, many businesses, gatherings and more.
“People are worried and they’re afraid, they’re afraid about their jobs. I want you to know we are working just as rigorously on the recovery from this,” Acton said.
The Ohio Department of Health on Thursday reported 5,512 coronavirus cases, including 1,612 hospitalizations and 213 deaths. Ohio still faces limited testing capacity and a shortage of personal protective equipment for front line workers.
Also on Thursday, the Ohio Manufacturing Alliance to Fight COVID-19 announced it will ramp up production of 750,000 to 1 million reusable face shields over the next five weeks.
Nationally, 6.6 million workers filed for jobless benefits last week, including 226,007 Ohioans, due to the coronavirus crisis. Since the emergency started, $132 million in jobless benefits have been paid out to 207,000 Ohio workers, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said.
Federal legislation expanded jobless benefits and makes independent contractors eligible for unemployment checks. Still, Ohio’s system does not yet allow independent contractors to apply for benefits. Husted said he expects the system to be functional by mid-May.
Christy Evans, a hair dresser in Wilmington, said it’s difficult to bridge the gap between her last paycheck and the promise of unemployment benefits.
“It could take weeks. So, how many weeks? We haven’t had income for a month,” she said. “I had to borrow money off my mother to get groceries in this house.”
Evans said her husband is still working but she is reluctant to seek another public-facing job due to the risk of being exposed to coronavirus. “What if I bring it home to him, then we’re both screwed,” she said.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation board of directors will hold an emergency virtual meeting Friday to approve giving employers up to $1.6 billion in dividend payments this spring.
The BWC is a state-run insurance program that pays medical bills and wages for workers injured on the job — about 84,000 claims each year. More than 248,300 public and private employers pay premiums into the system. The BWC has assets of approximately $27.3 billion as of the end of February.
Already, BWC announced employers could delay payment of premiums for March, April and May. Dividend payments will be applied to any outstanding balances before being paid out.
Going into Easter weekend, DeWine has urged houses of worship to reach their congregations through means other than group gatherings.
“Let me just be very direct and blunt: We’re not going to interfere with your First Amendment rights to practice your religion. But I don’t know any religion that teaches that you should do things that seriously endanger other people,” he said. “I don’t know any religion that says it’s OK not to worry about your neighbor, it’s OK not to worry about other people.”
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