Week in review: Nov. 22, 2020

Provided by Hannah News Service

CORONAVIRUS

The Ohio Court of Claims ordered the state health department to release hospital data about daily bed capacity, medical supplies, and staffing levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling rejected the Ohio Department of Health's position that the data are security records exempted from disclosure to the public under the state's public records law. Eye on Ohio, Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism, had requested the records in late March in the early days of the pandemic in the U.S.

Responding to Gov. Mike DeWine's comments on the possibility of a second closure order for restaurants and bars, the Ohio Restaurant Association said they have been in contact with him and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on how that would "devastate the industry."

The Ohio Department of Health and Gov. Mike DeWine's office offered additional details Monday on the revised health order limiting gatherings in Ohio, following its initial announcement in DeWine's address to Ohioans Wednesday evening. Another ODH order regarding retail and business compliance with facial covering mandates that was announced Wednesday went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday announced a three-week curfew for all residents instead of the anticipated closing of certain businesses such as restaurants and gyms. The curfew, which will run from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., begins Thursday, Nov. 19 and will run for three weeks. At the end of that time, DeWine said he will see where the state stands in regard to the spread of COVID-19 to determine what else might be done.

Expressing concern over side effects of pandemic-related measures such as the stay-at-home order, Sens. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) and Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) offered sponsor testimony to the House State and Local Government Committee on SB311, which would modify the law on public health orders, quarantine and isolation. The committee also received testimony from dozens of public witnesses in support of HB618 (Becker), the "Need Ohio Working Act" which would limit the governor's and ODH's authority to issue orders regarding contagious or infectious diseases and prohibit any order from affecting the conduct of an election.

Public health agencies from three of the largest metropolitan areas in Ohio issued stay-at-home advisories on Wednesday as the state continues to grapple with rapid increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates. Franklin County Public Health and Columbus Public Health were the first to announce the move, joined by health authorities for Cuyahoga County, Montgomery County and the city of Dayton.

Former Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton issued a video message Friday, Nov. 13, in which she encouraged Ohioans to spread kindness and simultaneously warned that she believes the nation is reaching a "critical inflection point" in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "I know many of you are feeling the strain of this deeply challenging time, and I want you to know I feel it too," Acton told followers on Twitter, speaking from her position as director of Kind Columbus, which is a division of the Columbus Foundation nonprofit.

Ohio hospitals are dangerously close to being forced to ration health care like Italy did at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials said Thursday. "We are on the doorstep of that," Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Medical Director Bruce Vanderhoff said during Gov. Mike DeWine's coronavirus briefing, responding to a reporter's question.

The House mainly along party lines Thursday voted to send legislation that would allow the General Assembly to overturn orders issued by the director of the Ohio Department of Health and to put other limits on the orders, setting up a showdown with Gov. Mike DeWine, who is strongly opposed to the bill. He said again Thursday that he will veto it. Thursday's debate saw Republicans arguing that SB311 (Roegner-McColley) provides proper checks and balances on the executive branch, while Democrats called it irresponsible legislation that will hamper the state's ability to respond quickly to an out-of-control pandemic.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Stephanie McCloud had signed the health order he announced Tuesday encouraging people to stay at home during specified hours unless they are working or engaged in an essential activity. "As COVID-19 continues to spread in Ohio, we need a stronger response to minimize the impact on Ohio's health care and hospital capacity and ensure health care is available to those that need it," said DeWine in a prepared statement. "With this order we are discouraging get-togethers and gatherings to minimize the spread of the virus while minimizing the economic impact of a complete shutdown.

ELECTIONS 2020

Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) increased her lead of a few dozen votes to 116 when Franklin County elections officials certified the results of her race against Democratic challenger Crystal Lett, although the result is within the margin requiring an automatic recount.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported Friday that initial unemployment claims again rose during the week ending Nov. 7, totaling 21,868. The prior week had 21,263 claims reported to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The total number of initial jobless claims filed in Ohio over the last 34 weeks (1,850,676) was more than the combined total of those filed during the last four years, according to a news release from ODJFS. The weekly data are usually released on Thursdays, but were delayed this week due to the Veterans Day holiday.

For the week ending Nov. 14, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 24,964 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That number is more than 3,000 higher than last week, when the department reported 21,868 new jobless claims. This is the third straight week that the number of new jobless claims has increased.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Wednesday’s House session saw passage of HB621 (Cross-Wilkin), allowing businesses deemed "non-essential" and ordered shut under pandemic orders to stay open if they can meet the safety requirements of their "essential" counterparts; HB255 (Hoops), regarding review of property tax exemptions.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Wright State University (WSU) has begun the process of laying off some faculty, the school announced last week. WSU is in the early stages of the layoff process and sent a notice Thursday to the faculty union, AAUP-WSU, alerting them that the university expects the need for layoffs, which begins the process.

INSURANCE

The new leader of Ohio's health insurer trade group is urging passage of surprise medical billing measure HB388 (Holmes) in the lame duck session and says it is emblematic of an approach insurers and providers can use to focus on their shared goals. Kelly O'Reilly took the helm of the Ohio Association of Health Plans (OAHP) as president and CEO in October, succeeding Miranda Motter, now a senior vice president at America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

MILITARY AFFAIRS

Despite the efforts of Gov. Mike DeWine, the congressional delegation and General Assembly, the permanent headquarters of U.S. Space Command will be outside Ohio, according to a U.S. Air Force announcement late Thursday. The narrowed list announced Thursday evening has six potential locations -- one each in New Mexico, Nebraska, Florida, Colorado, Texas and Alabama. A final decision is expected in early 2021 based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support and costs to the Department of Defense.

NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Saturday announced a $25 million CARES Act aid program for nonprofit organizations that serve low-income and at-risk Ohioans to assist with their unemployment debt. The deadline to apply is Friday, Nov. 27. The Saturday announcement outlined the process for nonprofit organizations that serve low-income and at-risk Ohioans to follow to apply for federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act grants.

TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $12 million grant for emergency repairs to the Brent Spence Bridge connecting Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky following severe damage from a crash involving two semi-trucks last week. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear Monday said an exhaustive examination of the bridge by state inspectors found that while a fiery crash involving two semis last week did not cause damage to the structure of the bridge, it is not expected to open until around Christmas.

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