COLUMBUS, Ohio — The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
Even with rising levels of vaccination, coronavirus cases are starting to surge in Ohio. The increase seems largely due to a faster-spreading variant spilling over the border from Michigan, but Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday wouldn’t call for increased restrictions in either state.
The faster-spreading B.1.1.7 variant is playing a big role in fueling a rise in coronavirus cases in 38 states. At 47,000, the United States on Thursday saw the greatest number of hospitalizations from covid since March 4.
Michigan is a particular hotspot, with 10,000 new infections on Tuesday and a death rate that was nearly triple what it was a month earlier.
The hotspot is crossing the border, with Ohio’s northernmost counties having the highest rates of new coronavirus infections. Statewide, the rise also continues, with new cases reported Thursday 8% above the 21-day average and hospitalizations — a lagging indicator — up 81%, at 181.
That’s even as more than 36% of Ohioans have had at least a first dose of a vaccine.
“We are behind Michigan in the sense of where this variant is,” DeWine said. “But we have the variant. It is very much alive and multiplying and moving in Ohio. So it is a race.”
Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer with the Ohio Department of Health, said that rapidly increasing rates of vaccination have helped tame the variant version of the virus by taking away more than a third of its potential hosts.
“Were it not for the levels of vaccination that we’re seeing today, it would be wreaking havoc,” Vanderhoff said.
So if it’s a race to vaccinate more people to keep ahead of the variant, wouldn’t it make sense to reimpose curfews and other restrictions in Michigan and Ohio while more shots go into arms?
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Monday called on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to “shut things down” in the face of the fast-spreading variant. Whitmer — who last year was the target of a kidnapping plot over coronavirus restrictions then in place — has resisted those calls.
DeWine said he spoke to the Michigan governor on Wednesday, but he declined to say what he thought she should do.
“I’m not going to talk about Michigan,” he said. “No one knows more than the governor of Michigan, so I’m not going to get into Michigan.”
DeWine also didn’t entertain reimposing restrictions in the Buckeye State. Even though most have been canceled, his critics regularly take to social media to call him things like “tyrant” and “vile, evil, manipulative liar.”
The governor instead urged continued vigilance — and that more people be vaccinated.
“We have to stay on the offensive,” he said. “That means we have to wear the mask. Ohioans have done a great job… as of last night, we were at 94.5% mask compliance on average at retail establishments in Ohio.”
He added, “Where we can take this really on offense is with the vaccine. Over 35% of the state of Ohio has been vaccinated. We just have to keep going.”