Ohio Hits 1 Millionth COVID-19 Case As Vaccinations Speed Up

Columbus residents line up for their COVID-19 vaccination at St. John Arena on Ohio State's campus on March 19, 2021.
Columbus residents line up for their COVID-19 vaccination at St. John Arena on Ohio State's campus on March 19, 2021. [Darrin McDonald / WOSU]

Updated: 4 p.m., Monday, March 22, 2021

Just over a year after the state diagnosed its first patients, Ohio has exceeded the milestone of 1 million COVID-19 cases.

“When this started, I didn't have any idea that we would be at this a year later and that we would have a million Ohioans or so infected,” Gov. Mike DeWine said at a press conference Monday.

New infections have plateaued after multiple weeks of fast-dropping case rates, the governor said. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) currently reports an infection rate of 144 new cases per 100,000 people – about three times higher than the benchmark DeWine set to lift all public health orders in early March.

Last week, Ohio expanded the categories of people eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, allowing any resident over 40 years old – as well as those with qualifying conditions and occupations – to schedule an appointment.

Next Monday, March 29, Ohio will allow anyone ages 16 and older to sign up for vaccination.

In the meantime, DeWine said he has informed vaccine providers and county health departments that, if they are unable for some reason to fill their appointment slots, they can offer shots to those 16 and above.

“While there are many places where there is great demand, more demand than there are shots available… we do have some places in the state where that’s not true,” DeWine said.

With 1,300 providers across the state, the governor added that there are bound to be inconsistencies in scheduling. However, he emphasized that exception is just that – an exception, not the rule – and will not be a widespread change.

“What we don’t want is any slots not filled,” DeWine said. “We don't want any of the vaccines sitting there.”

Mass Vaccination Sites

Last week, Ohio began operating mass vaccination clinics at multiple locations across the state, including the St. John Arena in Columbus and the Wolstein Center in Cleveland.

Calling it a “Herculean effort to undertake,” ODH irector Stephanie McCloud said the Cleveland site had given the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to 31,000 people as of Monday afternoon – a rate of about 6,000 per day. And on Saturday, nearly 500 people got the shot at the Elizabeth Baptist Church in Cuyahoga County, part of an effort to get the vaccine out to communities of color.

DeWine visited one such clinic himself Monday morning, at the Eugenia Atkinson Recreation Center in Mahoning County.

Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown said he wanted to get his first shot publicly to set an example.

“I want to travel, I want to see my family and friends, but also I want to play with my granddaughter,” Brown said.

The fully-vaccinated governor concurred.

“Getting the vaccine is liberating,” DeWine said. “It’s freedom. It’s kind of like a weight off your shoulder when that happens.”

Ohioans can find vaccine providers and schedule appointments on the state website at gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov, or call the centralized coronavirus hotline at 833-427-5634.

Vetoing SB 22

DeWine said he will officially veto a bill that would limit public health orders and states of emergency on Tuesday, almost two weeks after Ohio Republicans pushed it through the legislature.

Among other things, SB 22 would restrict the length of states of emergency and allow lawmakers to vote to overturn any states of emergency or public health orders issued by the governor.

“The bill that was passed by the General Assembly, by the Senate, by the House, will have an impact far beyond this pandemic,” DeWine said. “It should not be looked at as the legislature’s answer to what we need to do in the pandemic, because it goes so much further than that. It really would decimate local health departments’ ability to keep the citizens of their community safe, in things well beyond this pandemic.”

DeWine sent a letter to lawmakers Monday morning laying out his case for why the bill is unconstitutional and how he thinks it would affect the health and safety of Ohioans if it became law.

“This bill is a trial lawyer’s dream,” DeWine said during his COVID-19 press briefing Monday, arguing that SB 22 would expose the state’s universities and health departments to lawsuits. He outlined his particular grievances with the bill’s restrictions on quarantine orders – noting how the state had to respond quickly after two Miami University students returned from Wuhan at the pandemic’s beginning, and detailing potential consequences in the event of outbreaks of other diseases like Ebola or smallpox.

The governor said he sent a proposed deal to the legislature, which would allow lawmakers some of the oversight they want. He did not disclose legislative details of the offer.

“I still believe there is a compromise to be had,” DeWine said.

Copyright 2021 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.

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