Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s favorite metaphor for the COVID-19 pandemic this spring is a race — one in which the state’s vaccination effort is outpacing the infectious variant strains of the novel coronavirus but victory isn’t assured.
DeWine and Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the chief medical advisor to the Ohio Department of Health, said Thursday they believe the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom is driving case increases in Ohio. After an encouraging March, DeWine said, many of ODH’s graphs are moving in the wrong direction: More cases instead of fewer, a higher rate of cases per 100,000 Ohioans and more counties getting darker on the state’s color-coded health advisory map.
The highest rate of growth is in the state’s northern counties, which Vanderhoff and DeWine had previously linked to spiking cases in neighboring Michigan.
“We’re not seeing the runaway case growth that we saw during the fall, certainly not yet, so we can still turn this around if more people continue to get vaccinated,” DeWine said.
About 32% of Ohioans have received at least one vaccine shot; 19.5% are fully vaccinated, either through Pfizer and Moderna’s two-shot regimen or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The state will divert some of its vaccine supply from low-demand locations to provide additional doses in northern counties where cases are on the rise, DeWine said.
It will also help businesses and schools set up clinics for employees and students eligible to receive it. College campuses are already part of the effort. High schools will be, too, but 16- and 17-year-old students need permission from a parent to get the jab.
Ohio will use stimulus money to tackle unemployment debt
The state of Ohio will soon begin paying back the $1.46 billion debt it accrued to cover unemployment payments during the pandemic, DeWine said.
It’ll be using some of the money it received in the most recent stimulus bill signed by President Joe Biden.
“It really is the fiscally responsible thing to do,” DeWine said.