Governor: No graduations if they amount to mass gatherings
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday clarified that high school graduations can’t be permitted if they amount to mass gatherings.
The Republican governor said the most preferred option is a virtual ceremony conducted online, followed by a drive-in ceremony allowing students to arrive at designated locations at designated times to pick up a diploma, followed by gatherings of 10 people or fewer.
“Mass gatherings can’t be held,” DeWine said Wednesday, correcting a statement a day earlier when he said graduation ceremonies would be up to schools as long as proper social distancing was followed.
“While it’s time to graduate, it’s not time to have a graduation party,” he added. “That will have to wait.”
In other coronavirus-related developments in Ohio:
The state has 937 presumptive or confirmed deaths, and more than 17,300 cases, including more than 3,400 hospitalizations, the Ohio Health Department reported Wednesday.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Outbreaks in nursing homes across Ohio have killed at least 276 residents during the past two weeks, according to new data from the state. That represents nearly 30% of all the virus-related deaths in Ohio since the first one was reported in mid-March.
The data released Wednesday does not include any deaths of nursing home residents before April 15, meaning the actual percentage of total deaths attributed to nursing homes could be higher.
Toledo and Lucas County reported 33 long-term care facility deaths during the last two weeks, the most in the state.
Cuyahoga, Franklin, Wood, Summit, and Mahoning counties had at least 15 deaths at nursing homes during that time.
With more testing taking place in nursing homes, the total number of cases also has increased dramatically. The state said 2,126 long-term care residents and 872 workers have tested positive since April 15.
DeWine continued to defend his decision to make mask-wearing optional for customers and clients in businesses beginning next week, while saying it must be mandatory for employees under most circumstances.
DeWine said Ohioans have been asked to make many sacrifices, and have done so, but this requirement went too far. Jeopardizing people’s willingness to do hard things by a mask mandate would be disastrous, the governor added.
Yet DeWine also said he believes most Ohioans understand that wearing masks will help return life to normal as soon as possible.
“I’m convinced that as we move forward more and more Ohioans will do that,” he said.
Under the governor’s reopening protocols, businesses can still mandate that customers or clients wear masks.
DeWine said the state has acquired and distributed 4.1 million pieces of personal protective equipment throughout Ohio, believed to be the largest in Ohio history.
The equipment is being distributed to emergency management agencies across the state and from there to nursing homes, jails and other places with many people grouped together, the governor said.
Ohio will continue to buy equipment on the open market when possible and have it made in Ohio when it can’t, DeWine said.
Finding the equipment and getting it to the people who need it most continues to be necessary because “this virus unfortunately is going to be with us for a while,” DeWine said.
Youngstown State University followed the lead of several other universities and announced it’s waiving ACT and SAT test scores as a requirement for admission because testing for those exams has been canceled during the pandemic.
The change remains in place through next year’s spring semester.
The University of Dayton announced it will furlough about 450 employees and lay off an additional 60 workers this summer, the Dayton Daily News reported. The university notified affected employees this week.
Two prison employees and 27 Ohio prison inmates have died from COVID-19, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
More than 2,000 inmates out of about 2,500 at Marion Correctional Institution have tested positive to date, while more than 1,500 of about 2,000 have tested positive at Pickaway Correctional Institution, where 19 of the inmates who died were housed.
The union representing state prison guards said corrections officers still don’t have enough personal protective equipment, and sometimes must wear the same mask day after day. DeWine said that providing proper equipment to guards is a top priority.
Overtime pay for prison guards is up 13% over the same time period last year as officers pull longer shifts to cover for colleagues out sick with the coronavirus, The Plain Dealer reported.
Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo contributed to this report.