There was no one bombshell, but Wednesday’s COVID-19 news conference featured a number of important programs and orders announced that are meant to address the ongoing public health crisis.
Here are the latest important developments:
Governor to manufacturers: ‘We need your help’
Gov. Mike DeWine announced the creation of the “Ohio Manufacturing Alliance to Fight Covid-19.”
This will be a partnership between public agencies and private manufacturers ramping up production of personal protection equipment (PPE).
“We know we have a shortage,” DeWine said on Wednesday. “If you’re a manufacturer, we need your help. We need your help right now.”
This includes swabs, collection tubes, oxygen, goggles, gowns, masks, ventilators, and other pieces of equipment, DeWine said.
The state is asking that businesses able to help in this effort get involved by visiting https://repurposingproject.com.
Small businesses to get relief?
DeWine signed a new order meant to give relief to small businesses:
I have signed an executive order that seeks to provide some assistance for our small businesses in the area of their mortgage and rent payments. We know that these businesses are hurting and have made hard choices. pic.twitter.com/cefg2aNVKG
— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) April 1, 2020
The lenders and landlords of commercial properties are asked to suspend payments from small businesses through at least the middle of summer. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted suggested the payments be “paused” and put on the back end of the loan.
This would help small businesses retain enough funding in order to “restart” after things return to normal, Husted said.
There is some confusion as to whether this executive order is actually mandatory and enforceable.
DeWine and Husted were both asked numerous times by reporters to clarify whether this is a direct order or merely a request.
DeWine answered: “It’s both, really.”
Husted said the state was “requesting remedies” on behalf of small businesses, and that it “will ultimately be up to the lender.
The state government — specifically, Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton — has demonstrated it has the legal authority to intervene with private business operations. A previous order requiring the temporary closure of “non-essential businesses” was carried out because of Acton’s power to declare a public health emergency.
At Wednesday’s press conference, though, neither DeWine nor Husted could explain how the government has definitive legal authority to intervene with private contracts to ensure that commercial payments are deferred.
In the end, lenders are being implored to take such action for the good of the economy.
State to speed up COVID-19 testing
Another order, this one from Dr. Acton, deals with hospitals not able to conduct COVID-19 tests on their own. Instead of sending specimens to third-party testers, they will now be required to send them to hospitals which are testing.
The Ohio Department of Health will continue to conduct tests on health care workers and other critical patients.
The testing hospitals have proven to be quicker with results than the third-party testers, DeWine said.
Ohio National Guard preparing for ‘the surge’
DeWine said the Ohio National Guard is headed to Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati to prepare the cities for the expected COVID-19 surge headed their way.
Members of the Guard will work with local experts to understand the current response infrastructure and what further needs are required.
Hospitals have been working on their own plans, DeWine said.
“All of these things are being integrated together,” he added.
SNAP recipients to have easier, safer access to groceries
Ohioans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will soon have a safer way to shop for groceries.
The state is working on a “click and collect” plan in which SNAP recipients can order groceries online and pick them up outside a store. They would be able to swipe their EBT cards from their own vehicles.
In cases where a store does not have a “mobile point of sale device,” a SNAP recipient could pick up the groceries inside, but still save time and remain “socially distant” while doing so.
Other quick-hit announcements …
- April 1 is Census Day, and Ohio residents are asked to fill theirs out online (2020census.gov); by phone (844-330-2020); or by mail.
- Essential businesses that are still open are asking customers to be: patient with staff; stay home if not feeling well; practice recommended hygiene/social distancing guidelines; and use curbside pickup/delivery if possible.
- DeWine noted that President Trump issued a disaster declaration for the state of Ohio, allowing for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants to state and local governments.
Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.