Ohio continues battle against virus spread


Staff and wire report



Under the continuation of limited testing capabilities statewide, Champaign County’s total confirmed cases of COVID-19 held steady at 5 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Ohio had 4,782 cases as of Tuesday at 2 p.m, including 1,354 hospitalizations, 417 intensive care unit admissions and 167 deaths; 81 out of 88 Ohio counties have confirmed cases.

Food relief

A bipartisan group of United States senators from Ohio and a majority of U.S. House members from Ohio announced a victory on Tuesday when the United States Department of Agriculture approved their request for food relief.

U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ (ODJFS) request to operate the Disaster Household Distribution Program. The announcement comes after the senators were joined by Ohio House members in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue last week urging swift approval of ODJFS’s request to operate the program. In addition to Brown and Portman, the letter was also signed by Reps. Marcy Kaptur, Tim Ryan, Mike Turner, Brad Wenstrup, Marcia L. Fudge, Steve Chabot, Robert E. Latta, Joyce Beatty, David Joyce, Steve Stivers, Troy Balderson and Anthony Gonzalez.

USDA has approved the Disaster Household Distribution Program through April 30, 2020. Food packages will be distributed through Ohio’s network of foodbanks, with on-site pickup or drive-through pickup options.

“ODJFS’s request would apply to households using the foodbanks across the state during the period of the request, which is estimated to be 1,251,200, approximately 10.7 percent of Ohio’s population. Approval of Ohio’s Disaster Household Feeding Program will help protect the lives, safety and health of the citizens of Ohio and reduce the rapid spread of COVID-19,” the members wrote in their original letter.

Ohio prisons

A former Republican fundraiser in Ohio convicted in an investment scandal that ensnared a sitting governor is among nearly 170 state inmates who could be released early because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday released the list of inmates, which includes former Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe, who is serving an 18-year sentence for stealing from a $50 million rare-coin fund he oversaw.

The investigation into what was dubbed “Coingate” led to 19 convictions that reached up to then-Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and his chief of staff. The scandal also helped Democrats win four of five statewide elective offices in 2006.

It will be up to the Ohio Parole Board to decide whether to release Noe and 25 other inmates who are over 60 and have medical problems that could make them vulnerable to the virus, DeWine said.

Another 141 inmates have been recommended for early release because of overcrowding concerns, the governor said. No violent inmates or sexual offenders will be released.

Noe, 65, was due to be released in 2026.

Each inmate on the list of those who could be released went through the same screening process and will be treated the same by going before the parole board, DeWine said.

Twice before, the board has recommended against clemency for Noe. Prosecutors have said he used state money to pay off business loans and fund a lavish lifestyle, including the renovation of his Florida Keys home.

Other state developments

House Speaker Larry Householder said in an interview on WOSU-Radio’s “All Sides With Ann Fisher” show that lawmakers are considering dipping into the state’s $2.7 billion rainy-day fund, as well as borrowing money for public works projects to help jump-start the economy after the pandemic.

The Ohio Liquor Control Commission approved an emergency rule allowing restaurants to sell up to two alcoholic drinks with each food order.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced the creation of a state Office of Small Business Relief to bring assistance efforts for the state’s 950,000 small businesses under one roof.

Husted also said that 30,000 jobs are currently available at companies including grocery stores, delivery services and businesses making personal protective equipment (PPE). National media outlets are reporting some of these jobs are difficult to fill due to their front-line exposure to the public and the lack of PPE for grocery workers. Some recently unemployed workers are opting to stay on unemployment benefits, if they can access them, rather than risk being on the front lines of exposure to the virus.

In Fairfield in southwestern Ohio, Shared Harvest Foodbank’s director said the agency has distributed as much food in two weeks as it normally would in two months, the Hamilton-Middletown Journal-News reported. The Ohio Foodbanks Association has asked DeWine for $25 million in emergency funding because of the overwhelming statewide demand. The association says the U.S. Department of Agriculture has waived requirements through April 30 for gathering detailed information on first-time recipients, making it easier to distribute food.

Tidbits

Columbus police planned to begin issuing citations after 10 complaints of people holding large gatherings in off-campus neighborhoods over the weekend, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Traffic crashes across Ohio fell 44% in March compared to March 2019 as traffic plummeted, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

The annual outdoor drama, Tecumseh!, held in Chillicothe and telling the story of the 19th century Shawnee leader Tecumseh, canceled its entire season, according to the Chillicothe Gazette.

Police in Elyria cited a man for violating the stay-at-home order, explaining to the man that “buying drugs was not essential reason to travel,” The Chronicle-Telegram said.

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Staff and wire report