Columbus-area leaders react to Franklin County going to a 'purple' COVID-19 alert

Megan Henry Dean Narciso Max Filby
The Columbus Dispatch
In this file photo, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther tells people to wear their masks and stay home as he talks about the increase in COVID 19 cases during a news conference at Columbus Public Health on Oct. 26.

Local officials were unsurprised Thursday as Franklin County became the first to be elevated to Ohio's highest COVID-19 advisory.

Gov. Mike DeWine formally announced the change during his 2 p.m. virus briefing. The move makes Franklin County the only one of Ohio's 88 counties to ever reach a "purple" Level 4 advisory.

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No additional restrictions have been announced for any county that hits a Level 4 alert, though the state encourages residents living in a "purple' county to only leave home for supplies and necessary services.

"Don’t get discouraged. We can turn this around, but we all must take personal responsibility," Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a prepared statement. "What we do in the days and weeks ahead will determine how long this spike will last and can literally save lives."

Franklin County has reported at least 45,650 cases and 658 deaths, though that number could increase today due to a delay in data, according to the Ohio Department of Health's coronavirus website.

As of Thursday, Franklin County was reporting 553 cases per every 100,000 residents, according to the state. 

Columbus Public Health Commissioner Mysheika W. Roberts wasn't surprised that the county was upgraded to purple Thursday. It's a sign, she said, that everyone needs to pay attention and that Franklin County residents "have to do better then what we’ve been doing.”  

“What it means for Columbus is that we all need to be concerned," Roberts said. "If we live in Columbus, if we work in Columbus you need to be concerned and we need to change our behavior now so that we can reduce the numbers and have more of our loved ones around in the future.”

Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady was informed of the change and confirmed the county's upgraded virus level.

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"We need to continue to do more and make sure folks are paying attention. It's a bad situation that's only getting worse," he said. "It's time for us to stand up and show the rest of the state how to handle this thing."

The "purple" designation shouldn't be seen as a badge of shame, but as an opportunity, said Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady.

With Thanksgiving just a week away, O'Grady encouraged people to give up their holiday plans so that they can spend future ones with their families.

"As we're headed into the holidays, we're going to have to be able to look at different way to do so," he said, "to sacrifice this holiday for future holidays … Inconvenience today so that we have a tomorrow."

Franklin County's heightened designation comes just a day after Columbus and the county issued a "stay-at-home advisory" geared at slowing the spread of the virus. Officials said the health advisory will go into effect, starting at 6 p.m. Friday, and will last 28 days.

Officials do not plan to enforce this advisory with fines or police enforcement at this time. However, Columbus Public Health Commissioner Mysheika Roberts said officials will review the situation after 28 days, and will consider enforcement if the situation doesn't improve.

Columbus City Schools on Thursday announced that it has suspended all in-person extracurricular activities, including winter sports, through at least mid-December due to a surge in cases of coronavirus.

In a communication to the district on Thursday, it announced the suspension goes into effect on Friday evening and will last until at least Dec. 18.

The district's announcement also notes that students at the Career and Technical Education programs at Columbus Downtown High School and Fort Hayes Career Center will move to complete remote learning as of Monday. Those students will return to blended learning on Jan. 4 unless the health advisory is extended.

Dispatch reporter Bethany Brunner contributed to this story.