CLEVELAND — The general who leads the Ohio National Guard said during a news briefing on Tuesday that just over half of Army National Guard members in the state are fully vaccinated.
Major General John Harris Jr. said the low vaccination rate degrades “our ability to respond with maximum capability.” Ohio has the fifth largest National Guard contingent in the U.S. with more than 11,000 Army National Guard members and nearly 5,000 Air National Guard members.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a call-up of 1,050 National Guard members last week to deal with COVID-19 cases in the state, especially in northeast Ohio, which has been especially hard hit by the virus in recent weeks. Those members are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be deployed to hospitals.
"The Ohio National Guard must have all their vaccinations up to date, including COVID-19, to be on the hospital support mission," the Ohio Guard told WCPO on Wednesday in a statement.
Guard members are expected to begin working in stressed hospitals starting on Thursday, including 150 medical personnel and 900 members in support, Harris said. The medical personnel will be staffed primarily in Cleveland and the Akron-Canton area.
The U.S. military has set a June 30 deadline for all Army National Guard members to be fully vaccinated. Around 98% of active duty Army soldiers were fully vaccinated ahead of a Dec. 15 deadline.
Harris has set a March 31 deadline for Ohio Army National Guard members to be fully vaccinated. Ohio National Guard spokesperson Stephanie Beougher said Harris set the earlier deadline to increase the Guard’s readiness and for the safety of its members.
Nationally, just over 61% of Army National Guard members are fully vaccinated and over 68% have received at least one dose, according to the National Guard Bureau.
Around 92% of Ohio Air National Guard members are vaccinated, Harris said. They faced a Dec. 2 deadline to be fully vaccinated.
On Tuesday, a COVID-19 testing site run by the National Guard in Cleveland began turning away people three hours after it opened.
A long line of vehicles had formed before the testing site in a garage on the Cleveland Clinic campus opened at 9 a.m. A Cleveland Clinic spokesperson said people not yet in line around noon Tuesday were turned away so testing could be completed by 5 p.m.
Harris said the line of cars was impeding traffic headed to downtown Cleveland. Testing at the site was scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.
Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the U.S. with 199 cases per 100,000 people, a sharp increase from two weeks ago.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio has risen over the past two weeks from 7,493.29 new cases per day on Dec. 5 to 9,741.86 new cases per day on Dec. 19, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
4,797 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state as of Tuesday, the Health Department said.
Associated Press reporters Lolita Baldor in Washington and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.