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DeWine Relaxes COVID-19 Testing For Vaccinated Nursing Home Workers

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine delivers a COVID-19 briefing in December 2020. [Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine delivers a COVID-19 briefing in December 2020.

Updated: 5:05 p.m., Monday, May 3, 2021

Ohio is relaxing requirements for COVID-19 testing among nursing home and assisted living employees, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday.

Those working in nursing homes or other congregate care settings who have been fully vaccinated will no longer have to be tested for the virus twice a week, according to a new statewide health order.

“Unvaccinated staff in those facilities will continue to have to be tested twice a week,” DeWine said. “We hope that this change will give encouragement to those who work in nursing homes who have not been vaccinated yet to take advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

Ohio’s nursing homes were hit particularly hard by the coronavirus at the outset of the pandemic, accounting for more than half of the state’s virus-related deaths. The trend continued into early 2021, with nursing homes and long-term care facilities reporting more than 10,000 new cases in a single week in January. Along with healthcare workers, nursing home residents and staff were among the first Ohioans to be eligible for vaccination, though many workers and some residents declined the shots.

But the state has and will continue to make doses available to all nursing homes, the governor said, for new residents, new employees or anyone who turned down the opportunity to be vaccinated early on but has since changed their mind.

While more than 40 percent of Ohio residents have had at least the first shot of the vaccine regimen, DeWine said Monday the number of people getting vaccinated has been dropping “rather dramatically.”

The governor said he’s asking himself and his team every day what they could be doing to get more shots in arms. One change has been dropping the appointment requirement, he said, and opening even mass vaccination sites for walk-in shot seekers, including at the Wolstein Center in Downtown Cleveland.

“This is a strategy that is really paying off, not only in the Wolstein Center, but we’re seeing this across the state, more and more of our providers are offering walk-in opportunities,” DeWine said.

The Wolstein Center site had more than 2,000 walk-ins last week, he said, and of the total vaccinations given there, 44 percent went to minorities and 68 percent to Clevelanders from what the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has determined to be high-vulnerability ZIP codes.

During a Monday morning visit to the Wolstein Center site, on the Cleveland State University campus U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called the pandemic “the great revealer” for problems in the country and commended the Ohioans who have been working to reduce inequity in vaccine access.

“The walk-in [option] has been so important,” Brown said. “We've seen a surge of people that for whatever reason weren’t making appointments for a whole lot of reasons in their lives, but are walking in and getting this service and getting vaccinated.”

The governor’s office on Monday also released a “playbook” for helping ensure homebound Ohioans have access to the vaccine.

The state’s COVID-19 cases are down for the last 24 hours, with 955 new cases confirmed, according to Monday’s statistics from ODH, along with 89 new hospitalizations and 17 new intensive care unit admissions.

High case rates continue to be concentrated in the northern part of the state, with Cuyahoga, Erie, Ashtabula and Summit counties all in the top 10 Ohio counties ranked by highest occurrence of COVID-19.

Ohio’s statewide average case rate is 147.9 as of Monday, the governor said.

“We hope this continues to go down,” DeWine said. “At least it’s headed in the right direction.”

ideastream’s Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.