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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Gov. Mike DeWine Sets Benchmark for Lifting Ohio's Public Health Orders

Gov. Mike DeWine signs SB263 into law on January 6, 2021.
Office of Gov. Mike DeWine
Gov. Mike DeWine signs SB263 into law on January 6, 2021.

Gov. Mike DeWine gave his most concrete signal yet that the end of the pandemic is near, declaring Thursday that he will lift all its COVID-19 public health orders "when Ohio gets down to 50 cases per 100,000 people for two weeks."

DeWine set the benchmark in a statewide address Thursday, his third primetime speech since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago. The governor said Ohio is currently logging an average of 179 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, a rate that's fallen precipitously from 731 cases at the beginning of December, when the state began vaccinating residents.

Still, the lifting of public health orders isn't likely to arrive soon. As of Wednesday, just one county – Holmes County, in the Amish country northeast of Columbus – is below that 50 case threshold.

"The end of our fight is now in view, but we must continue pressing forward in these final days," DeWine said. "We want all Ohioans to complete this vital mission together."

While some Republicans are pointing to Texas and Mississippi, which lifted their mask mandates and business capacity limits this week, Ohio will not yet drop its requirement on face masks in public places – which has been in place since July.

Calling them a "battle-tested tool," DeWine again emphasized how effective face masks have been at preventing the spread of disease in schools, even when kids are less than six feet apart and in the same room for prolonged amounts of time. And the governor repeated his call for people to not let up their precautions just yet.

"All of us are so sick of this virus," DeWine said. "But you know, we must resist this urge, and we must fight until the very end."

Ohio did recently ease some of its restrictions, including reopening sports and entertainment venues at 25% of indoor capacity or 30% of outdoor capacity, and allowing banquet halls to host larger events like proms, weddings and graduation ceremonies. However, the state's ban on "mass gatherings" over 10 people – a restriction first implemented last March – remains in place.

DeWine's address comes nearly a year to the day of his first major action related to the pandemic. On March 3, 2020, DeWine – alongside Mayor Andrew Ginther and then-Health Department director Amy Acton – laid down strict attendance limits on the annual Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus and canceled the popular Fitness Expo.

The decision to curtail the giant sports festival, which typically attracts 20,000 athletes from 80 countries and thousands of spectators, came before Ohio reported a single case of COVID-19 but turned into a harbinger of what was to come.

“That was really, at least for me, the beginning of the pandemic,” DeWine said earlier this week.

Nine days later, DeWine ordered schools closed for three weeks, a move that ultimately ended in-person learning for many districts for nearly a year. This past Monday, March 1 was the state's deadline for school districts to resume in-person learning, in exchange for staff and teachers receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Now in the second phase of its vaccine rollout, Ohio has recently seen hospitalizations and other key numbers fall to their lowest levels in half a year. The Ohio Department of Health reported 1,875 new cases in the last day, along with 82 hospitalizations and seven ICU admissions.

030421 hospitalization data.PNG
The number of people hospitalized in Ohio with COVID-19 has continued to decline.

Almost 17,000 Ohioans died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, although death totals have not been updated in several days after the health department changed its reporting system.

More than 1.8 million people in Ohio have received at least one shot of the vaccine as of Thursday, or about 15% of the population, according to the state Health Department. More than 984,000 have completed their vaccinations, or about 8% of the population.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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