COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The coronavirus has killed its first Ohio prison inmate, Gov. Mike DeWine said as the number of infections in state prisons topped 260 according to data issued Monday afternoon.
Twelve of 28 institutions are now under full quarantines, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
The inmate at Pickaway Correctional Institution had a long-term chronic illness before dying, DeWine said. Among staff members, 119 have tested positive, the majority at Marion Correctional Institution, the prisons agency said.
One Marion prison guard died of COVID-19. Inmate infections hit 146, with most of those at the Pickaway prison. DeWine ordered up to 30 members of the Ohio National Guard to assist at the Pickaway health center, with a dozen prison medical employees currently out sick with COVID-19.
A quarantine “separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed, or potentially exposed, to a contagious disease to see if they become sick,” the prisons agency said.
During the epidemic, the state is also limiting inmates to two meals a day, a hot brunch and an evening meal, to reduce movement in facilities and contact between individuals, The Lima News reported. The prison system also lowered commissary prices so inmates could afford more food.
DeWine has announced just over 200 inmates are being considered for early release, including pregnant prisoners and women with children with them behind bars. The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday called on DeWine to release thousands of inmates to minimize the spread of the virus.
On Friday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf authorized the early release of as many as 1,800 inmates.
Kwanza Maxwell, of Columbus, said her father, David Watkins, is living in an open dorm situation at Noble Correctional Institution in southeastern Ohio, and eating side by side with other inmates. Watkins, 57, is a diabetic dependent on insulin, she said. Records show he’s due for release in 2027 on a drug trafficking charge.
“He is not sentenced to death, therefore he does not deserve to die while serving his sentence,” Maxwell said during a news conference.
The state continues to review the cases of inmates who could be released, DeWine said.
In other developments:
To date, Ohio has confirmed nearly 6,900 cases and 274 deaths, according to the Department of Health. The pandemic has caused nearly 2,000 hospitalizations in Ohio, with about 600 people needing treatment in intensive care units.
DeWine said nursing homes, which currently account for about 5% of all cases, will now be required to notify all residents and family members of a positive test within 24 hours.
Ohio has averaged about new 365 cases a day over the past five days, with Health Director Dr. Amy Acton saying it appeared the state’s cases were at their height. “We seem to be having a very, very flat, steady peak,” she said. “We’re still at that peak, and it’s very stable at this point.”
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
LAWMAKERS URGE REOPENING
The state remains under a stay-at-home order until May 2, with all but essential businesses closed. But some lawmakers are starting to pressure DeWine to reopen part of the economy.
State Rep. Nino Vitale, a Republican in Urbana in western Ohio, sent a letter to DeWine asking that elective surgeries be resumed so doctors and nurses can return to work, according to the Dayton Daily News.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revised how coronavirus cases and deaths can be reported, saying positive symptoms can count toward a diagnosis even if there isn’t a positive test.
GOP House Speaker Larry Householder told the Dayton Daily News he questioned whether Ohio is using that policy to escalate its numbers and justify the policy of keeping the economy closed.
DeWine played down a Monday tweet by President Donald Trump that said the decision to reopen the states fell with him and the federal government, not individual governors.
The relationship with the White House is collaborative, not confrontational, DeWine said.
“I’m confident that the Ohio plan we lay out, the White House will think is fine,” he said.
The governor spoke above the sound of Statehouse protesters demanding that the stay-at-home order, which expires May 2, be lifted and people be allowed to return to work. “Stop the tyranny, open up Ohio!” one sign said.
Ohio University moved up graduation to April 18 for its Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and College of Health Sciences and Professions, adding hundreds of new physicians and nurses to assist in battling the pandemic.
THE NEW NORMAL
DeWine limited liquor sales in Ashtabula, Belmont, Columbiana, Jefferson, Mahoning and Trumbull counties to individuals with valid Ohio identification or proof they work in Ohio for an essential business.
The governor cited the decision of Pennsylvania to close its liquor stores on March 17, followed by the decision this month by several northern West Virginia health boards to limit liquor sales to state residents out of fears of an influx from other states.
DeWine said those moves then pushed out-of-state people into Ohio.
Cincinnati police have charged 10 people with violating the state stay-at-home order to date, including the April 4 arrest of a man behind a YouTube video describing a large crowd gathered in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
Associated Press writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
OVP Editor’s Note: Gov. DeWine began Monday’s press conference acknowledging his necktie which he said represented the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College.