With COVID-19 spread slowing, DeWine gives plan to ease curfew

The number of COVID-19 hospital patients and cases continues to decline from peak surge, prompting Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday to lay out progress benchmarks that will each trigger the curfew to ease and eventually be removed.

The current curfew begins at 10 p.m. each day. If the number of Ohio hospitalized patients with the virus stays below 3,500 people for seven days in a row, the curfew will be adjusted to 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. for two weeks.

If hospitalizations get under 3,000 for seven straight days, it will be adjusted to midnight to 5 a.m. Once hospitalizations are below 2,500 patients for a week, no curfew will be in place. If hospitalizations start to increase again, a curfew could be reinstated.

For the last six days Ohio has had fewer than 3,500 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, according to the state health department. On Tuesday, Ohio was also saw fewer than 3,000 hospitalized patients.

DeWine noted that it’s still important to follow health guidelines if the curfew is adjusted.

“Our case numbers are improving because of what you are doing -- and what you’re not doing,” he said. “More people are wearing masks. Please continue wearing masks.”

The curfew went into effect on Nov. 19 and was extended several times.

Coronavirus vaccinations for K-12 school staff will begin this week in Cincinnati, with Ohio aiming to administer the first dose of the vaccine to all school personnel who want it by the end of February, DeWine said.

Districts scheduled to receive the vaccine next week have already been notified. The remaining districts will be contacted by Friday and a time and date for vaccinations will be set up.

The vaccinations will mainly be distributed in closed clinics so staff will not have to compete with the general public. The governor hopes that by expanding vaccines to school staff, most districts will back to in-person or hybrid learning by March 1.

More coronavirus vaccines are expected to be available to older Ohioans as the state wraps up Phase 1A, DeWine said.

On average, the state is receiving 146,000 first doses each week. With Phase 1A finishing up, about 110,000 to 120,000 vaccines will be available to those eligible in Phase 1B.

DeWine also said that another 77,000 doses will be available in the next two weeks because the state isn’t drawing down all the vaccines required to be set aside for nursing homes in the federal vaccination program.

Starting Feb. 8, the state will bring vaccines to affordable senior housing locations in an effort to distribute the vaccines to Ohioans of different backgrounds.

“These clinics will help ease the burden for many seniors having trouble with the registration process and arranging transportation,” DeWine said.

The governor also said his office is working to set up town halls, create a vaccine toolkit for partners and other educations strategies to reach minority communities and address vaccine hesitancy.

Ohio recorded fewer than 5,000 daily cases of coronavirus for the third day in a row and the fourth day in a week, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The 4,262 cases reported Tuesday is the lowest number of cases reported in the last three weeks.

Socializing after vaccines

About 5.6% of Ohioans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. And some are wondering, after 10 months of social distancing, is it OK to meet up with friends and family after vaccination?

The data available now shows about 14 days after getting a second dose, people are significantly protected against getting severe COVID-19.

But the vaccine trials weren’t designed to look at whether getting vaccinated stops people from carrying and spreading the virus.

“They haven’t studied it directly to look at if it prevents transmission. That’s something they’re actively looking at right now. There’s a strong suspicion that it does,” said Zachary Jenkins, associate professor of pharmacy practice at Cedarville University.

Studies are underway now to learn more about this. The CDC’s official position is you still need to social distance for now. That’s because the department says experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide in real-world conditions and whether vaccinated people can unknowingly spread the virus before making that decision to change its advice.

“Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision,” the CDC states.

Jenkins said the fact that transmission studies are not available yet means that from a policy standpoint, it is hard to advise people who have been vaccinated to relax social distancing around each other.

In a practical sense, he said if a person is trying to assess their risk, it is likely low risk if healthy vaccinated people want to spend time with each other 14 days after their second dose.

“I would say there’s a little bit of a baseline risk assessment. If you’re in groups where you’re not high risk and you’re around each other, it makes sense, I would say, to not worry too much,” Jenkins said.

Dr. Thomas Hirt, family practice physician at PriMED Centerville, said masks are still advised for vaccinated people under the information we have now, because we’re still learning more about if vaccinated people can be personally protected but spread the virus.

“Wearing a mask is more about protecting everybody else than it is about protecting yourself. What we don’t know for sure yet is after you get a vaccine, how much of the virus could be in your nose and in your mouth and even though you might not get sick,” Hirt said.