COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Nursing home residents continue to make up the vast majority of coronavirus-related deaths in Ohio, according to new Department of Health statistics.
At least 1,246 residents of Ohio's long-term care facilities have died as of Wednesday from the virus, or nearly 70% of the total COVID-19 deaths statewide, the data show.
As nursing home fatalities continue to rise, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has promised a plan to ramp up testing in long-term care facilities, including the deployment of 14 teams of Ohio National Guard members to assist with the testing.
The latest data arrived as Ohio was hit with both good and bad news. This year's Ohio State Fair, scheduled in July and August, was canceled Thursday to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But Thursday also marked the day when indoor restaurant dining restarted, along with staying at campgrounds.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted also announced training for all sports, including contact sports like football, can resume May 26. Wedding receptions are now allowed again as well, with limits of 300 people and subject to the same social distancing rules governing bars and restaurants.
The nursing home death toll includes 877 reported since mid-April in facilities identified in 38 counties. Those are on top of the deaths of 369 residents who died earlier when Ohio recorded only whether an individual had been in a nursing home.
The state says 14 National Guard teams of 10 members each will assist the Health Department with testing, with teams consisting of medically qualified Ohio Air and Army guard personnel including medics and nurses.
Nationally, outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities have claimed more then 32,000 lives, according to a count by The Associated Press.
Last week, the White House strongly recommended to governors that all residents and staff at long-term care facilities be tested for the coronavirus in the next two weeks. DeWine said then that it was unlikely in Ohio, arguing the state had a responsible plan without widespread testing.
Meanwhile, the state reported Thursday that more than 1.2 million people filed unemployment claims in the past nine weeks as Ohio's stay-at-home order depressed the economy and led to widespread layoffs.
For the week ending May 16, just over 46,000 people filed jobless claims, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That's down from the approximately 51,000 claims filed the previous week.
The numbers announced Thursday pushed total unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic to 1,215,756, above the total number of claims over the past three years. The state says it has now distributed more than $2.8 billion in unemployment checks to more than 619,000 claimants.
Nationally, more than 2.4 million people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week.
The unemployment numbers were released as Ohio restaurants were set to offer indoor dining again Thursday after a two-month shutdown. Campgrounds are also reopening.
Horse racing begins again Friday, but without spectators.
Restaurants that allow diners inside must provide proper social distancing and other safety measures. The Ohio Restaurant Association says seven in 10 restaurants plan to reopen Thursday or soon after.
"Welcome back everyone!" said a chalkboard greeting at Abner's Restaurant in Hilliard in suburban Columbus on Thursday, WSYX-TV reported.
Restaurants could offer outdoor dining beginning May 15, which led to some scenes of overcrowded patios in cities around Ohio and a warning from Gov. Mike DeWine that police officers and health investigators will be making safety checks as part of beefed up enforcement teams.
Bar owners could wind up in court or lose their liquor licenses if they don't take steps to control their customers, DeWine warned.
Gyms and fitness centers reopen May 26 following a March 22 order shutting them down as nonessential businesses. On Wednesday, a Lake County judge called that order by Health Director Dr. Amy Acton "arbitrary, unreasonable and oppressive."
The ruling applies only to gyms in that northeastern Ohio county.
The number of confirmed and probable deaths associated with the coronavirus in Ohio has reached 1,836, state health officials said Thursday.
The Ohio Department of Health said that 55 new deaths were reported in the past day and that overall there have been nearly 5,300 hospitalizations.
Health officials said there were more than 30,000 cases considered either confirmed or probable.
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.
DeWine said the state will begin tracking racial disparities among victims of the coronavirus more closely, and making the results available on the state's COVID-19 website.
Ohio is also hiring as many as 1,800 local and state public health workers to help notify Ohioans of possible exposure to the virus, the governor said.
The pandemic is disproportionately affecting minorities in Ohio as it is elsewhere, state records show. Blacks make up 17% of COVID-19 deaths, 26% of all cases and 31% of hospitalizations, although they make up only about 13% of Ohioans.
"We have an obligation to be even more mindful in our response to helping those at higher risk," DeWine said. "It should not matter where you live or what race you are."
John Sewer reported from Toledo.