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Ohio Gov. DeWine warns against large groups, defends more NFL fans

FILE—In this file photo from March 14, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks at a coronavirus news conference at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. DeWine has issued a warning against Ohioans gathering for big events like weddings and funerals, while defending a decision to boost the number of fans allowed to attend NFL games in the state. The governor also said Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 that even as cases rise in the state, the economy won't be shut down again. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Mike DeWine pleaded Thursday with Ohioans to avoid crowded gatherings, citing the “absolutely heartbreaking” case of a wedding he said led to the coronavirus deaths of two grandfathers, while defending a decision to boost the number of fans able to attend Browns and Bengals football games.

The Republican governor also made it clear that he won’t rethink the state’s reopening.

“We’re not going to shut down this economy again. We’re not going to shut everything down,” he said during his twice-weekly briefing on the pandemic and its impact on Ohio.

DeWine’s comments came as coronavirus cases are on the rise, with the Ohio Department of Health reporting 1,539 confirmed and probable cases Thursday, well above the 21-day case average of 1,080. More than 164,000 confirmed and probable cases have been reported to date, including 4,983 deaths.

Eighteen counties are considered “red” under the state’s rating system for counties with high rates of virus spread and exposure, the highest since July. Half of those counties have outbreaks related to weddings or funerals, DeWine said.

“In one example, there was a wedding where two grandfathers died due to COVID,” the governor said. “Examples like these are absolutely heartbreaking.” He blamed the new spread on people not taking precautions like mask wearing and social distancing.

“This has just got to stop. These lives are valuable. These lives matter. We can do better than this,” DeWine said.

DeWine is under pressure from bars and restaurants to lift the ban on alcohol sales after 10 p.m., though he hinted Thursday he’s still reluctant to do that.

But a few minutes later, he defended his decision to allow the Browns and Bengals to boost the number of spectators from 6,000 to 12,000 at their remaining home games. Each team submitted detailed plans to the Health Department for keeping spectators safe.

That decision was based on letting people “go ahead and live,” DeWine said.

“Allowing some more people to go root for the Bengals, go root for the Browns, is something that people feel very passionately about—we think they can do it safely,” the governor said.

Hamilton County, where the Bengals stadium is in Cincinnati, is listed as red, meaning there are high levels of exposure to and spread of the coronavirus. “Limit activities as much as possible,” the Health Department warns for such counties.

Cuyahoga County, where the Browns stadium is in Cleveland, is at the next lowest level, orange, meaning increased exposure and spread. “Exercise high degree of caution,” the Health Department says.

Also Thursday, the state reported that initial claims for unemployment compensation rose for the third week in a row in a sign of ongoing uncertainty for Ohio’s economy. Continuing claims for unemployment, considered a more reliable indicator, fell only slightly.

For the week ending Oct. 3, 18,592 Ohioans filed jobless claims, an increase of about 3%, according to the Department of Job and Family Services. Ohioans filed 299,030 claims for continuing unemployment for the week ending Oct. 3, a 0.75% drop from the previous week.

DeWine has promised details next week on an aid plan for people struggling to pay their rent, and for small businesses and nonprofits.

Nationally, the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dipped last week to a still-high 840,000, the government reported Thursday.

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