, | Cincinnati Enquirer
Ohio will remove all coronavirus health orders including a statewide mask mandate when the state sees a drop in new cases based on population over a two-week period, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday.
DeWine, for the first time during the year-old pandemic, set a benchmark for lifting health orders at 50 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people over two weeks.
“We show these numbers every week at our press conferences,” DeWine said in a Thursday night statewide address. “Achieving this goal is very doable. We can do this and I know we will.”
On Dec. 3, Ohio was at 731 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks, DeWine said. That figure declined to 445 on Feb. 3 and to 179 new cases on Thursday.
Still, there likely will be a way to go for Ohio to reduce the current caseload more than three times over. Only one of Ohio’s 88 counties, Holmes at 47.8, now has an infection rate below DeWine’s new two-week benchmark of 50 cases per 100,000 Ohioans.
“Ohio is on the right path to get to us to 50, and this is thanks to the vaccine and the hard work you are doing every day to help mitigate the virus,” DeWine said, calling on Ohioans to continue wearing masks and taking other precautions.
The date Ohio was last at the 50 mark was not available Thursday evening, a spokesman for the governor said. But it was likely before the July wave in new cases and increased hospitalizations. The per capita calculation translates to about 5,845 new cases over two weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used a two-week incidence number to measure spread early on in the pandemic but has since shifted to a seven-day calculation for visualizing spread.
Ohio officials chose the two-week rate as the benchmark because that rate has been used for the weekly county-level coronavirus heat maps released since July, DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said.
“It’s a metric that Ohioans are familiar with,” Tierney said. “It’s a metric the epidemiologists, scientists and doctors in the state are familiar with.”
Although county numbers have been given since last summer, a statewide number was first given at a Jan. 7 press conference. DeWine has since shown a chart with the number once a week. The number, which uses “onset date” instead of the date a case is reported to the state, is not part of the state’s main coronavirus dashboards.
Tierney said, going forward, the number will be updated more frequently and moved to a more visible spot on the website.
The governor acknowledged Ohioans have grown weary of the virus and its impact on everyday life, but said they must resist the urge to back off precautions or avoid vaccination.
“The reality is that Ohioans continue to die each day from this virus. Each death is a tragedy, but there is something seemingly even more tragic and poignant about a death that occurs when the war is almost over and victory is close at hand,” he said.
DeWine last delivered a statewide address on COVID-19 on Nov. 11, when he threatened to close bars and restaurants amid accelerating infections, but instead soon opted to impose an overnight curfew that was allowed to expire Feb. 11.
President Joe Biden announced that the United States will have enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of May. That’s possible because of a new partnership between pharmaceutical companies Merck and Johnson & Johnson.
DeWine’s remarks came as key COVID-19 numbers tracked by the state have been declining.
With COVID-19 infections regularly exceeding 10,000 a day during the December surge, cases have fallen to an average of 1,665 a day this week.
And, the number of hospitalized virus patients appears poised to drop below 1,000 for the first time since October after peaking at nearly 5,300 in December.
Meanwhile, increasing supplies of vaccine, including the new one-shot offering of Johnson & Johnson, are flowing into Ohio, but the state still lacks a promised centralized appointment system and catching an inoculation remains hit and miss.
Slightly more than 1.8 million residents, or 15% of the population, have at least one shot in their arms, with priority given to older Ohioans most at risk of death or serious illness.
Starting Thursday, Ohioans age 60 and older, police officers, child care workers and funeral service employees are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
As more Ohioans receive vaccines, DeWine repeated is not yet ready to lift all safety precautions, saying he wouldn’t follow the lead of Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi who lifted mask requirements this week.
Ohio is loosening some restrictions, allowing more fans in the stands of baseball, hockey and soccer stadiums. Wedding venues and catering facilities can increase their capacities.
Meanwhile, several Republican lawmakers are pushing for a quicker return to normal. On Thursday, Rep. Larry Householder, a Glenford Republican under federal indictment, announced two proposals that would add checks to local health orders and the governor’s executive orders.
Reporter Jessie Balmert contributed.