Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine will extend the state’s 10 p.m. curfew until Jan. 30 rather than allowing it to expire Saturday, he said in a Thursday news conference. The state’s COVID-19 numbers are too high — and its vaccination campaign in too early a stage — to relax it.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to have to stay,” he said of the curfew, adding later: “We’re still in a very, very difficult time where we’re trying to balance letting people make a living, letting people do what they want to do, but at the same time not let this get out of control.”
Until conditions improve, DeWine’s administration will continue to focus on a multi-tiered response meant to control the virus and protect vulnerable people: Extending the curfew, expanding vaccine eligibility and ordering two million rapid-response antigen tests that Ohioans can take at home.
About the curfew — in case you forgot
DeWine enacted the state’s original COVID-19 curfew, which asks most Ohioans to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., on Nov. 19 and renewed it the following month.
The order has broad exemptions: Most retail businesses are required to close at 10, but grocery stores and pharmacies can stay open; restaurants and bars must stop dine-in service at 10 but can continue to offer pick-up and drive-thru services; Ohioans traveling to or from work are free to do so.
At the time he enacted the curfew, DeWine said he hoped it would give law enforcement the power to disband dangerous gatherings without unduly inconveniencing people in the state.
‘Now is the time to go big’
The 2 million antigen tests will come from a partnership between the state of Ohio, the health care company Abbott and the virtual health platform eMed, DeWine announced.
So it won’t be available for everyone, he added, although specific use cases will be decided by local health districts rather than the state. Generally, according to the governor, they should be reserved for urgent situations and implemented as part of a suite of COVID-19 diagnosis tools.
Why? Because rapid-response antigen tests are not always reliable — their convenience and speed arrive at the cost of some precision. DeWine learned that firsthand when he received a false positive result from an antigen test in August.
False positives are rare, Ohio Department of Health medical director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said. False negatives are more common.
He explained: “When an antigen test is positive, statistically speaking, it’s positive. 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.”
DeWine suggested the 2 million tests could be used for first responders and in some school settings.
“We’re confident it’s going to work well,” he said. “The priority is to make testing accessible wherever it is needed.”
Dr. Patrice Harris, CEO of eMed, explained that a professional will guide the antigen test recipients through the testing process via Skype or a similar platform. The recipient performs the test themselves with the professional’s instruction and receives a result within 15 minutes.
“Now is the time to go big and go bold, and that is what this partnership is doing,” she said. “We need to get tests in the hands of folks around this country so that they can make sure they are safe, their family members are safe and their communities are safe.”
Vaccine supply ‘basically the same’
Ohio’s expanding pool of vaccine eligibility still threatens to create a bottleneck effect, given the limited supply of vaccine available each week.
According to DeWine, the federal government delivers about 100,000 doses of vaccine every week; these doses are then distributed to more than 700 vaccine providers across the state.
On Tuesday, over 400,000 Ohioans became newly eligible for the shot. Hundreds of thousands more will join them in coming weeks, adding up to a total of over 2 million by mid-February.
Still, DeWine said, the vaccine supply situation remains “basically the same.” It’s unlikely to change until March, when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — administered in one shot rather than two — enters the market.
The Ohio Department of Health reported 7,271 new cases of COVID-19, 109 new COVID-related deaths and 306 new COVID hospitalizations Thursday. Thirty-five patients were newly admitted to intensive care.