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Ohio Residents 50 And Up Eligible For COVID-19 Vaccine Starting March 11

Updated: 5:15 p.m., Monday, March 8, 2021

Coronavirus vaccinations will expand to include Ohio residents over 50 years of age, those with Type 2 diabetes and those with end-stage renal disease starting Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday.

The expansion comes after conversations with county health departments, DeWine said.

Counties have worked with community strongholds like churches to help distribute vaccines, DeWine said, which is aiding in getting the still-limited supply out into the community. But there are still leftover doses at the end of the week, DeWine said, and providers can handle additional appointments.

“It’s communities coming together like that to make sure we are penetrating every community in the state,” DeWine said. “We think we’re ready to move up.”

More than 2 million Ohioans have received a first vaccine dose, DeWine said, and more than 1 million have received both doses. The change later this week will make an additional 1.2 million residents eligible based on age alone, DeWine said.

An additional 25,000 residents will qualify due to end-stage renal disease, DeWine said, as well as 172,000 people with Type 2 diabetes. Those with Type 1 diabetes and a list of other medical conditions were already eligible, as well as those in certain professions.

DeWine also announced March 9 will serve as a date of remembrance in Ohio to honor of those who have lost their lives or struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Flags will be flown half-mast Tuesday, DeWine said, and officials are working on plans for a memorial grove in one of Ohio’s 83 state parks.

DeWine said Monday Ohio's new, centralized COVID-19 vaccination scheduling website is now available, offering a single location for Ohioans to confirm eligibility to be vaccinated, identify nearby providers and schedule vaccine appointments.

Providers are required to use the portal, he said, or a program that can interface with it. The universal portal is expected to streamline the vaccination process, reduce lag and provide more concrete data for the state.

Mass vaccination sites like the one announced in Cleveland last week also will aid in distribution efforts and improve the process, DeWine said. The site, at the Wolstein Center on Cleveland State University’s campus Downtown, will be one of 15 across the state, DeWine said, and equipped to vaccinate 6,000 people on a daily basis.

“We’ve gone with the belief that keeping it close to people in a lot of locations is important,” DeWine said. “What we’re now layering on top of this is a series of mass vaccination sites.”

Nursing homes and assisted living centers will receive new guidance on how to handle visits for residents over the next few days, DeWine said. The state plans to allow visitation in residents’ rooms, for both private and shared living spaces, but health orders for masks and social distancing are still important, DeWine said.

“We’re on offense,” DeWine said. “We can’t give up our defensive tools until we defeat the enemy. We have to stay on defense.”

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Monday includes specific recommendations for people who have been vaccinated, such as for some gatherings and unmasked interaction within a home.

The state has not regulated activities inside someone’s home, said Ohio Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, but it is important to note the vaccine has put the state in a transition period. While vaccinations are still underway, he said, it is impossible to know who is at risk in public spaces and safety measures are necessary.

“People who are fully vaccinated can safely get together among one another without masks or physical distancing, but they should continue to wear masks in public and if they are visiting unvaccinated people who are at greater risk,” Vanderhoff said. “We’re in a transition period where a lot of people are still unvaccinated.”

The new CDC guidelines are a sign of growing confidence in the ability of the vaccine to protect the population, Vanderhoff said. But the continued appearance of COVID-19 variants, including cases in Ohio of the B.1.1.7 strain and one case of the P.1 variant that originated in Brazil, should serve as a reminder that the virus “isn’t giving up,” he said.

“These variants underscore just how important it is for all of us to get vaccinated when it’s our turn and to continue to play good defense until more of us are vaccinated – masking, physical distancing, frequent hand hygiene, these really remain our best protection as we look forward to the day when the vaccines put the pandemic behind us,” Vanderhoff said.

Unemployment System Improvements Underway

A new contract with IBM aims to improve the unemployment call center offered by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS). The department also signed a contract with LexisNexis to help address fraud, which has been a widespread problem since the pandemic began.

The newly-formed Public-Private Partnership Team, or P3 Team, connects banking, insurance and other industry experts with ODJFS to handle fraud, claims and adjudication and improvements to the call center.

“We did not want to be looking at a strategy that would take six months to implement,” said P3 Team leader Jeff Ficke. “We needed immediate results. We needed to talk about things that happen in thirty, sixty, ninety days.”

Fraud is particularly high priority for the team, Ficke said, as fraudulent unemployment claims cost the state more than $330 million in just the last three months of 2020.

The first set of recommendations have already been delivered to the state, Ficke said, including expanding roles for LexisNexis and Experian in combatting fraud and better methods for clearing out the backlog of roughly 2.5 million cases of benefits for eligible Ohioans. The team also recommends faster responses to questions from residents, reviewing third party vendor responsibilities, and consolidating data.

The web portal to assist Ohioans seeking new jobs is undergoing changes as well, according to Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. The Ohio Means Jobs website will be streamlined to improve the experience for those seeking work and for employers, Husted said Monday, and offer a resume builder, skill and interest assessments and practice tests for GED and college entrance exams and tools for employers to easily screen candidates.

“I know we are in the final sprint of what we are trying to do here with the virus, and I can tell you, employers are hiring,” Husted said. “We’re trying to knock down some of the barriers.”

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