COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio House of Representatives reinstated work-from-home status Thursday after a legislative aide tested positive this week for COVID-19.
House Speaker Larry Householder told his colleagues to not report to the Riffe Center for work until further notice.
The House is currently on summer recess but the staff has been working out of the center across from the Ohio Statehouse since Householder ended a temporary work-from-home order in May.
“The health and well-being of House staff is our top priority,” Householder, a Republican, wrote in a memo to staff Thursday. “This decision is being made out of an abundance of caution.”
The reinstatement of work-from-home follows weeks of contention between Democratic and Republican lawmakers over the wearing of masks in the Statehouse.
The aide, assigned to a House Republican, was sent home earlier this week along with others who were in physical contact with the staffer. It remains unclear how many other employees have been affected.
Gov. Mike DeWine also announced Thursday that someone on his staff has tested positive for the virus.
RED ALERT COUNTIES
Ohio labeled 12 counties on red alert Thursday as the reported COVID-19 cases in those areas continue to rise, DeWine announced during a briefing.
The number of Ohio counties labeled red jumped from seven to 12 on Thursday, with three being designated to the state's watch list.
DeWine says officials will monitor cases in Butler, Hamilton and Cuyahoga counties for the next week as each county is at risk of being escalated to purple, the highest public emergency level on the state's color-coded alert system.
Cuyahoga and Hamilton are home to two of the state’s largest cities, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
The state dropped Franklin County, home to Columbus, off the watch list Thursday after DeWine says the state saw a decrease in the number of residents being hospitalized for the virus.
The other counties on red alert are Montgomery, Clermont, Pickaway, Fairfield, Lorain, Wood, Summit and Trumbull. Huron County was moved down to a level 2.
All of those counties will now have a mask mandate for residents over the age of 10 and those without any medical condition keeping them from wearing one.
“We all want to be here when this (virus) is all over with,” DeWine said during the briefing. "To do that we're going to have to make some changes."
K-12 AND HIGHER EDUCATION REOPENING
Gov. DeWine announced reopening guidance for the state's 167 higher educational institutions.
The guidance, created in consultation with the Ohio Department of Higher Education and educators statewide, included details of testing areas in schools, the use of funding for proper protective equipment and designated spaces for isolating symptomatic students.
DeWine and the legislative leaders of both chambers will request approval from the controlling board for $200 million for higher education reopening and $100 million for K-12 reopening using CARE Act funds.
“We want our kids back in school, we want them safe and this money will help achieve that,” the governor said.
Ohio's unemployment claims declined for the 10th consecutive week, indicating residents are returning to work as the state reopens amid the virus’s continuous spread.
For the week ending July 4, Ohio saw a reported 33,483 initial jobless claims to the U.S. Department of Labor, according to the state Department of Job and Family Services.
The decline comes after weeks of record-breaking jobless claims as the state weathered the initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic that halted the economy.
In the past four months, nearly $5 billion in unemployment payments have been made to more than 736,000 Ohioans, according to the state agency.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.