March 9 marks exactly one year since three people in Cuyahoga County, the first in the entire state, were reported as infected with COVID-19. Since that time, Ohio’s cases have risen to nearly a million, and more than 16,000 people have died in what is still a global pandemic.
But it was days before March 9 when Mike DeWine, a first-term governor, who previously served as the state’s attorney general, as well as senator, took action and started preparing for the looming battle ahead.
On March 3, 2020, DeWine held his first coronavirus news conference to announce that he was limiting attendance for the Arnold Sports Festival—an event that draws thousands of athletes and spectators from across the world.
This afternoon we learned that three Ohioans have tested positive for #COVID19. It's important for us to take aggressive action to protect Ohioans, and therefore, I have declared a state of emergency in #Ohio.— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) March 9, 2020
Our world has not been the same since.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of how COVID-19 emerged and spread through Ohio and the state’s efforts to stop it.
What's remarkable is how little we knew about how long this might last.
On March 12, Dr. Amy Acton, then director of the Ohio Department of Health, signed a health order that would eliminate mass gatherings.
The same day, DeWine announced that all schools in the state would close at the end of day for an “extended spring break” until April 3, to slow the spread of the virus.
By March 22, the mass gathering order was expanded and a Stay-at-Home order was issued. The order prohibited mass gatherings of 10 people or more, and all other places of public entertainment and amusement that were not specified in previous orders were ordered to close.
The state permitted only essential travel and activities and told Ohioans to avoid leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary; essential businesses and workers were defined.
Acton urged Ohioans to “flatten the curve” and warned that, if unheeded, the state could see 6,000 to 8,000 new cases a day.
While March started off with zero cases, Ohio had 2,199 cases by the end of the month.
This is when masks really entered our lives.
On April 18, 2020, Ohio surpassed 10,000 cases. Within two weeks, COVID-19 was running rampant through two Ohio prisons—the Marion Correctional Institution and the Pickaway Correctional Institution. Within two weeks, Ohio’s number of cases would double. On May 4, 2020, Ohio reached 20,000 cases. By June 11, cases would double again and hit over 40,000.
Health officials recommended Ohioans wear masks at all times when interacting with people outside their family unit.
On April 27, 2020, DeWine announced that all store employees and customers must wear masks at all times. The following day, DeWine walked the mandate back, citing opposition from Ohioans who opposed it.
“Within the last 24 hours, it's really been made clear to me that a mandatory mask requirement for people who are shopping, going into a retail business, is offensive to some of our fellow Ohioans,” DeWine said.
Mask wearing became a “recommended best practice” in Ohio, but masks weren’t specifically mandated until months later.
By the end of April, there were over 18,000 cases in Ohio.
By May, we all realized this was not something that would pass soon, and tensions rose.
DeWine announced that the state’s Stay at Home order was being replaced with a new order called Stay Safe Ohio—but kept most of the provisions of the previous order, including the mandate that Ohioans were under order to stay at home except in specific circumstances.
On May 3, protesters took to the streets and tracked Acton down at her home. The small group gathered outside her residence and picketed, holding signs that said such things as “Dr. Amy Over-Re-Acton Hairstylists Are Essential” and “Let Freedom Work.” In total, about 15 to 20 people gathered to protest against her. Hours later, counter-protesters gathered to support the director. They held signs that said “I stand with Dr. Acton” and “Dr. Acton we have your back.”
On May 14, 2020, the state allowed restaurants and bars to reopen, as long as they complied with new mandatory safety measures and social distancing requirements. On that date, Ohio had 26,357 cases of coronavirus. The next day, the state allowed other businesses such as salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors to reopen.
Cases would continue to climb. In early July 2020, DeWine made masks mandatory in high-risk counties.
By the end of May, Ohio had 35,000 cases.
On June 11, 2020, DeWine announced Acton had resigned from her role as health director. DeWine told Ohioans that she stepped down to spend more time with her family.
By the end of June, Ohio had over 51,000 cases.
The state unveiled a new color-coded advisory system on July 2 that showed how each county was at risk for the spread of COVID-19 based on several factors. Each county was assigned a color based on the spread.
Level 1 was assigned yellow, Level 2 assigned orange, Level 3 assigned red and Level 4 assigned purple. The factors that determined the colors on the map included new cases per capita, sustained new case growth, proportion of cases that are non-congregate cases, sustained increase in emergency room visits, sustained increase in outpatient visits, sustained increase in new COVID-19 hospital admissions and Intensive Care Unit bed occupancy.
A state-wide mask order went into effect on July 23. At that time, the state had nearly 80,000 coronavirus cases and over 2,500 Ohioans had died.
By the end of July, Ohio had surpassed 91,000 cases
Ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Cleveland, DeWine took a COVID-19 test, per standard protocol. DeWine announced that he tested positive but was asymptomatic and feeling fine. DeWine later took a second test that came back negative.
A new order went into effect on Aug. 4, mandating that all students in grades K-12 would be required to wear a mask while at school.
“This gives us the best shot that we can, along with the other things that schools are doing, which is keeping the distance separation, working on that, and added to that, the other things that they’re doing in regard to sanitation gives us the best shot that we have, frankly, to be able to have children in school,” DeWine said.
August ended with more than 123,000 cases.
The state's decisive initial response was now a thing of the past.
On Sept. 10, DeWine announced that South Carolina’s Public Health Director Dr. Joan Duwve had been selected to replace the vacant role left by Acton when she resigned. But just a few hours after making the announcement, DeWine announced that Duwve had reconsidered.
Duwve later said in a statement that she withdrew her name hours after her hiring was announced publicly because she didn’t want her family to deal with the harassment that Acton’s family faced.
By the end of September, 153,000 Ohioans had contracted coronavirus.
Fall is when Ohio saw case and fatality numbers begin to climb to deadly heights. Among those hardest hit by the virus were Black residents. By mid-October, Black Ohioans comprised 27% of the COVID-19 hospitalization load, despite making up only 14% of Ohio's population.
On Oct. 1, coronavirus cases in Ohio were at 155,314. By Halloween, the number of cases reached over 215,000 and thousands of residents had died.
Cases would double again in November. On Nov. 1, Ohio had 219,000 cases. But by Nov. 30, that number reached over 421,000.
A statewide curfew went into effect on Nov. 17. Initially, DeWine said the curfew would only be for 21 days.
"Our situation in Ohio is deteriorating," DeWine said.
The curfew demanded that people be at home after 10 p.m., except for individuals working or traveling to or from work. DeWine's office said the curfew was a compromise to prevent a shutdown.
But due to rising case numbers, the curfew would remain in effect well into the new year.
Health experts continued to plead with residents not to gather for Thanksgiving and the upcoming holidays.
"Don't assume that because you're in your own home with your own family that you're not going to spread infection," Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said.
The months normally associated with family and holidays marked the deadliest period thus far for Ohoians.
Cases rose by another 168,000 during the month of December. By the end of the year, Ohio had reported 700,380 coronavirus cases. By the middle of December, daily case numbers were in the tens of thousands.
On Dec. 4, DeWine announced plans to distribute vaccinations across the state. Ohio’s vaccination plan is part of a multi-phase distribution process.
The initial rollout, called Phase 1A, targeted frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff in nursing homes.
On Dec. 10, with rising case numbers, the state urged Ohioans to avoid holiday gatherings, stay at home and wear a mask. DeWine also asked residents to not gather with anyone outside of their household, to prevent the spread of the virus.
Avoiding a ‘holiday tsunami': DeWine urges to Ohioans to follow Stay Safe Protocols through end of year
On the last day of December, Ohio had reported a total of 8,962 deaths due to coronavirus. And that number wouldn't slow down anytime soon. As the days and weeks went on, Ohio's death toll steadily rose.
Nearly 200,000 new cases were reported in January. By Jan. 31, Ohio had more than 895,000 total cases.
The state starts Phase 1B vaccinations, targeting Ohioans ages 65 years and older as well as individuals who had childhood conditions that carried into adulthood such as Down syndrome, sickle cell anemia, cerebral palsy and others.
Deaths continued to climb. By Jan. 31, another 2,000 more deaths were reported. Ohio had now surpassed 11,000 deaths and it was still climbing.
The wave of deaths continued to rise, reaching more than 17,000 by the end of the month, before finally slowing.
By the end of the month, Ohio had 967,422 cases of the disease, but new cases had plateaued. February’s peak number of cases reached 4,120 on Feb. 4. By comparison, only 1,268 new cases were reported on the last day of the month.
More and more people continued to be vaccinated. The state continued with its Phase 1B plan. By Feb. 3, the total number of people who had received an initial dose of the vaccine outnumbered the number of Ohioans who contracted coronavirus.
The statewide curfew issued in December was lifted on Feb. 11. DeWine warned Ohioans that while the curfew was lifted, another one could be imposed if cases took off again.
By the end of the month, more than 1.6 million people in Ohio were given an initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 885,000 people had been fully vaccinated by Feb. 28.
On March 4, Phase 1C of Ohio’s vaccination plan was rolled out. The latest phase includes eligibility for individuals who live with certain medical conditions or work in certain professions who have not been covered in previous phases based on their age or medical condition.
On that same day, DeWine held a special evening news conference to announce that he would remove the state health orders when Ohio reaches 50 cases per 100,000 people. It's a metric that the state hasn't met yet, but is on its way to achieving, albeit likely several weeks to months away, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
On March 8, the state lowered the age of individuals who can get vaccinated to 50 years old. The state added additional health conditions to the vaccine list, allowing more Ohioans who have health issues to get vaccinated.
Next week, Ohio's first FEMA-backed mass vaccination center will open at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland. DeWine announced plans to convert the Cleveland State sports facility into a mass vaccination on March 17, and the opening of more than a dozen additional mass vaccination sites across the state.
The move will give the state the ability to administer 6,000 COVID-19 vaccines a day for eight weeks.
The center is a collaboration between state health officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal government will provide the additional vaccines that will be distributed.
With more vaccines on the way, and warmer weather to come, hope and spring arrive together on Ohio's doorstep.
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Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Ohio, a timeline of Governor Mike DeWine's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Northeast Ohio, and link to more information from the Ohio Department of Health, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, the CDC and the WHO.
See data visualizations showing the impact of coronavirus in Ohio, including county-by-county maps, charts showing the spread of the disease, and more.
The CDC and the Ohio Department of Health are now recommending the use of cloth face coverings in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.
View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.