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DeWine Dangles Hope for Return to Normal, Taking First Steps to Lift Pandemic Restrictions

Gov. Mike DeWine speaks from his home in Cedarville.
Office of Gov. Mike DeWine
Gov. Mike DeWine speaks from his home in Cedarville.

With hints of spring in the air, Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday tantalized Ohioans with prospects of the end of pandemic restrictions and a return to life as we knew it more than a year ago. But he said, “There’s a bridge to that life, and we have to take that bridge.”

The governor emphasized two main things upon which that bridge is built, one being the continuing vaccination of Ohioans and the second being the continued need to wear masks for the foreseeable future. “Until we get this herd immunity, we have to continue to wear masks. We have to continue to be careful,” DeWine said.

Vaccinations continue to show promising results in Ohio nursing homes. DeWine said last week there were 369 new cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes; that’s a significant decline from 2,832 new cases reported in one week in December. “Obviously we’re not satisfied yet,” DeWine said. “We want to continue to drive these numbers down.”

Vaccine supply increasing

DeWine said an increase in supply will help. The state next week will receive 310,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. With vaccination of school personnel finishing, the doses will be able to make a more significant dent in the population age 65 and over. Currently DeWine said data shows nearly 27% of Ohioans age 65 to 69 have taken the vaccine. That compares to 60% of those age 80 and up.

He encouraged people to help those who are vaccine eligible but may not have internet access to sign up for a shot or may not have transportation to a vaccination location. “We need to continue to get shots in arms,” DeWine said.

The prospect of a third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson soon being approved and available is also cause for optimism, DeWine said. He hopes that vaccine will get the green light from the FDA in the next few days. “When that light goes on, we believe in the first week this would be an additional 90,000 doses” the state would receive. That would be in addition to the 310,000 doses already expected next week.

DeWine indicated the state will continue for now vaccinating older populations because “87% of all deaths have occurred in those age 65 and up.”

DeWine said the state will begin to broaden the retailers to which vaccine will be provided to include some Walmart and Meijer locations as well as additional independent pharmacies.

Lifting restrictions

DeWine announced he will begin to lift pandemic restrictions for events and activities in the coming days. One of the first things he noted that is changing as of today, the state’s two nursing homes for veterans are now again admitting new residents. The homes in Sandusky and Georgetown have not accepted new people since March of last year.

DeWine indicated for events, restrictions on crowds will be increased to 25% of maximum capacity indoors and 30% of maximum capacity outdoors. He indicated a mask mandate will remain in place, social distancing will be required and those from family units will sit in a pod of no more than six people.

DeWine said proms, graduations, weddings and other activities should all be able to occur, providing safety precautions are in place. He said they are working on safety protocols for fairs, festivals and parades and he expects to issue that guidance in the coming days. He noted that this guidance will reflect current conditions and may be modified if things improve. “It can be better as circumstances on the ground get better,” noted Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.

DeWine also said as of Monday, the state’s behavioral health hospitals will lift restrictions on visitors with a hope that visitation “will play a role in well-being and recovery.”

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A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.