The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has changed every facet of life in a short span of time. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that unemployment for this quarter could rise to over 10 percent. According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nine in 10 adults are now officially socially distancing themselves. In Ohio, more people filed for unemployment in March alone than in all of 2019.
Before we can get our country and our economy back up and running, we must solve the underlying coronavirus crisis, and Ohio can play a role in that effort in two big ways. First, we can leverage our world-class businesses to contribute to the national effort to address the coronavirus in the hardest-hit areas. Second, we can do our part to slow the spread of the virus in our state.
Over the past few weeks, I have worked with Ohio health care providers and businesses and the federal government to ensure our hospitals get the resources they need to handle the demands of this virus, as well as to help Ohio companies make important contributions to our state and national effort to slow the spread of the virus.
One key contribution from Ohio has been Battelle, a global research institution in Columbus. We have been working with the Trump administration and Governor Mike DeWine to help get critical mask decontamination technology approved for Battelle so that it can provide more frontline health care workers with the protection they need. This technology will allow health care workers to safely reuse the incredibly important N-95 masks that help keep them safe as they treat the ill. After that approval was secured, I was able to help Battelle receive two federal contracts to rapidly produce 60 new Critical Care Decontamination Systems, which will allow approximately 4.8 million masks per day to be decontaminated at hotspots around the country at no cost to hospitals.
We have also been working to make sure Ohio businesses can make needed contributions to the national effort to fight the coronavirus. Last week, we were able to help Cardinal Health, based in Dublin, Ohio, break through federal red tape and bureaucracy to be able to donate 2.2 million protective gowns to the Strategic National Stockpile, the federal government’s central collection of medical equipment to deploy to the frontlines of the pandemic. This will help ensure health care workers have the personal protective equipment they need to treat coronavirus patients, and these gowns are already at hotspots around the country.
We also worked successfully with the U.S. Trade Representative to help Akron’s GoJo, which makes the hand sanitizer Purell, resolve some tariff issues that were affecting their ability to distribute bottles of Purell, a valuable resource that each of us can use in our daily lives to minimize the spread of coronavirus.
One of the most important steps we need to take to flatten the curve of COVID-19 in Ohio and nationwide to make sure we are able to test for more potential cases so that we know the extent to which the coronavirus has spread and can then get people who have been infected the treatment they need. Unfortunately, many health care systems throughout Ohio have lacked the equipment and resources to keep pace with the demands of the virus.
UC Health, Greater Cincinnati’s academic health system and an affiliate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, was poised to change this in SW Ohio by acquiring a new cobas 6800 machine, which can process more than 1000 diagnostic tests per day. However, vague federal guidance led the machine’s manufacturer to withhold the machine from UC Health, potentially endangering the lives of thousands of individuals in southwest Ohio who could not otherwise be tested for coronavirus.
When we learned about this, we worked with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Trump administration to end this unnecessary holdup and get UC Health the support it needed. Within 48 hours, the machine arrived. UC Health will now be able to perform 10 times as many tests, and SW Ohio will be able to better address the coronavirus spread.
These are all measures that will make a difference in how effectively Ohio and the entire United States respond to this unprecedented challenge, but our work is not yet done. I will continue to do anything I can to make sure that our health care system is equipped to handle the coronavirus and that Ohio remains a leader in our nation’s response to the greatest health crisis of our time.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R) represents Ohio.