Ohio governor outlines ‘first steps’ to begin reopening state amid coronavirus crisis

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By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Monday outlined the “first steps” to begin reopening the Midwestern state’s economy as it battles the coronavirus pandemic, starting with non-essential surgeries this week and then moving on to the manufacturing and retail sectors after that.

The plans diverge from those of its neighbor in Michigan, in allowing manufacturing to return on Monday. Michigan has not outlined plans to allow manufacturing to resume at this point. Ohio and Michigan are key states that President Donald Trump, a Republican, won in the 2016 election.

“These are first steps,” DeWine said. “We’ve got to get moving. We’ve got to get people back to work. We’ve got to open things up.”

Amid sweeping stay-at-home orders in 42 U.S. states, people have taken to the streets in some states in protest. Public health officials have warned against a premature easing of social distancing orders.

Ohio is part of a coalition of Midwestern states that agreed to coordinate the reopening of their economies. Other states involved are Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Kentucky.

Ohio’s reopening will begin on Friday as it allows non-essential surgeries that do not require an overnight hospital stay, DeWine said in a news conference. Dentists and veterinarians also will be allowed to open then.

Three days later, the manufacturing, distribution and construction sector will reopen, said DeWine, a Republican. General offices also can reopen then, although he encouraged companies to keep employees telecommuting if possible. On May 12, consumer retail and services will reopen.

Ohio will require all companies to have employees practice social distancing and where that’s not possible barriers will need to be installed, DeWine said. Employees must perform daily health assessments, and companies will stagger or limit arrivals of employees as well as shift changes.

“The coronavirus is still here. It’s just as dangerous as it’s ever been,” the governor said, adding that the state’s requirements for wearing masks and social distancing remain in place for everyone.

DeWine said sectors like restaurants, hair salons and gyms will come later, and said he did not know what their time lines would be. Mass gatherings like concerts and sporting events will likely be last to return.

The governor said he considered reopening the state by regions, but decided that would have been harder to do and would have caused confusion. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has said she may reopen her state by regions less hard hit by COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

As of Monday, Ohio had 16,325 COVID-19 cases and 753 deaths, but DeWine said the trend was moving in the right direction.

DeWine said the state needs to ramp up testing and tracing. He believes daily testing totals at the state’s public hospital, excluding private labs, will top 7,200 by April 29 on the way to a target of more than 22,000 by May 27.

The state has almost 700 local public health officials working on tracing infection and it is aiming to boost that number to 1,750 by June 1, he said.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

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