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DeWine: National Guard to expand hospital capacity

COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday that hospitals must prepare for an expected surge in cases in coming weeks.

“As we look forward to what we know is coming, if anyone wonders why we’re doing this, I would ask them to turn on the news and watch what is happening in New York,” the governor said at a news conference. “New York is more densely populated, but this is what we are working every day in Ohio to try to avoid.”

DeWine said he has asked the National Guard to send members to Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati to prepare medical infrastructure needed for the coming surge and that hospitals are working closely with Guard leaders.

“Over the coming days, the National Guard will continue to help communities expand hospital capacity,” he said, adding they could make use of college dorms, closed hospitals and other facilities.

The Ohio Department of Health reported 2,547 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state on Wednesday, with 65 confirmed fatalities to date.

Cases range in age from one to 99 years, with 51 percent of cases in females and 49 percent in males. Hospital admissions number 679, with 222 in intensive care.

DeWine also announced the establishment of the Ohio Manufacturers Alliance to Fight COVID-19, a collaborative public and private task force to provide first responders with personal protective equipment and other medical devices.

He directed manufacturers to a website, repurposingproject.com, to see a list of needed items by the medical community.

“The money will be there, what you need to do is let us know what you think you can do,” he said.

DeWine also spoke on the issue of testing for the virus.

“We know Ohio hasn’t had as much testing as we would have liked,” he said. “We had to ration the testing.”

He said he asked Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, to require non-testing hospitals — those that send their specimens to a third party to be tested — to contract The Ohio State University, MetroHealth System, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.

“These hospitals have the capacity to do tests,” DeWine said. “They are much faster than the private labs. The turnaround at private labs is unacceptable for the patient and the rest of us.”

The governor also spoke of the struggle of small businesses in the state, many of which have had to shut down under the stay-at-home-order.

“We know many of them are hurting and had to make tough choices,” he said. “Through this order, I am issuing a plea to lenders and landlords across Ohio to work with small business and suspend payments for at least 90 days.”

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the order for a three-month deferral is to “stop the economic spread of the virus.”

“There is a connectivity to all of this,” he said. “If someone cannot pay their rent, the person who owns the property cannot pay their lender. If we don’t resolve this chain, this affects everyone from small businesses to landlords.”