Around 1.4 million people joined Ohio’s COVID-19 vaccine-eligible pool Thursday — among them Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who was vaccinated during a news conference at his former high school in Montpelier, Ohio.
All Ohioans over the age of 50 are now eligible to sign up for a vaccination appointment, as are all Ohioans with type 2 diabetes or end-stage renal disease.
“I finally qualify,” joked 53-year-old Husted.
Addressing the state, Gov. Mike DeWine spoke optimistically about the spring ahead, again promising the return of many events — among them county fairs, proms, parades and festivals — that had been canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 risks.
DeWine’s hope is grounded in the steadily declining number of daily COVID-19 diagnoses and hospitalizations recorded by the Ohio Department of Health, he said. The department reported 1,448 new cases Thursday — just a little over half the number recorded exactly a month before on Feb. 11.
Data collected by the state also show more counties exiting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “high-incidence threshold,” a rate of COVID-19 infection that exceeds 100 cases per 100,000 residents. DeWine has promised to lift state orders on mandatory mask-wearing when that number reaches 50 per 100,000 statewide.
It likely won’t happen for a while, according to ODH’s data. On Thursday, Ohio had 155 cases for every 100,000 people.
But things are looking better than they have for a long time, DeWine said.
“Nothing is guaranteed when we’re dealing with the virus, but Ohioans have done very well keeping the mask on, doing what we need to do,” he said. “This number continues to come down and I am very, very hopeful that we will continue to see that occurring.”
Fair’s fair, but bring a mask
The governor's new guidelines for county fairs include a 30% capacity limit at grandstands, mandatory masking and enforced social distancing.
Guidelines for proms, parades and festivals should arrive within a week, according to DeWine.
He added that the guidelines issued Thursday could change between then and June, when the state’s first county fairs are scheduled to start, depending on the state of the virus within Ohio.
“That’s the way it looks today,” he said of his instructions to fair organizers. “It certainly is possible that by the time we get to the second month of fairs, or even possibly the first month of fairs in June, that we may be off the health orders. We don’t know. We just hope things continue to go well.”
New visitation rules for nursing homes
The federal government has instructed nursing homes to allow “responsible indoor visitation” for all residents, regardless of the vaccination status of that resident or their visitor, moving forward in 2020.
The Ohio Department of Aging will follow this guidance, according to DeWine and department director Ursel McElroy. But “responsible” in Ohio will come with qualifiers, including:
- A resident who has COVID-19 and is still considered contagious will not be able to receive indoor visitors.
- A resident who is unvaccinated will not be able to receive indoor visitors if they live in a facility with a vaccination rate of below 70% in a high-incidence county.
COVID-19 testing coming to libraries, schools
The state will distribute hundreds of thousands of rapid-result antigen tests to its libraries, schools and community health centers to supplement existing testing programs, DeWine said.
These tests are self-administered with the help of a virtual proctor — a medical professional who instructs the patient over video chat — and provide results within 15 minutes.
“We encourage our schools to take advantage of this resource and develop aggressive testing plans,” DeWine said.
The tests come from a partnership between the state of Ohio, the health care company Abbott and the virtual health platform eMed. DeWine ordered 2 million of them in January.
But they aren’t the most reliable form of testing available. Their speed comes at the cost of precision.
When discussing the antigen tests in January, Ohio Department of Health medical director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said he would trust a positive result from such a test — false positives are uncommon — but recommends additional testing if an antigen test comes back negative.
“When an antigen test is positive, statistically speaking, it’s positive” he said. “You can have a very high degree of confidence in that. Not so much with a negative result. I would not, for example, advocate for anyone taking an antigen test and giving themselves a clean bill of COVID health.”
At the same news conference, DeWine said the point of the antigen tests was to make quick testing more accessible and use them as one tool out of many to protect communities from COVID-19.