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Turning the page: After 15 months Ohio starts to move on from pandemic

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Posted at 7:51 AM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 07:51:32-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.

With a surplus of coronavirus vaccines and dropping case numbers, Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday indicated that Ohio is starting to return to normal.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week abruptly reversed its guidance, saying that Americans who had been vaccinated could go without masks — including indoors. DeWine followed suit on Monday, lifting mask requirements except in nursing homes, schools, medical facilities and on public transportation.

It will be up to businesses to decide whether to require masks, DeWine said.

The governor will lift all pandemic health orders on June 2. After that, Ohioans who refuse the vaccine and to take other precautions will in many ways be on their own.

“Those individuals who are not vaccinated will be taking a very significant risk,” DeWine said, later adding, “It’s time to transfer responsibility over to individuals and let them make their own decisions.”

With about 43% of Ohioans at least starting the vaccine, case rates have been falling. By Monday, all key metrics were below their 21-day averages.

The number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 Ohioans fell to 106.9 — a 13-point drop since Thursday. If the trend continues, the state will have about 59 cases per 100,000 on June 2 when health orders are removed.

DeWine originally said he wanted to get to 50 cases per 100,000 before removing them the orders. But he said circumstances — especially the effectiveness of the vaccine — changed his thinking.

“We are starting to win the race,” the governor said. “We just need everyone to get vaccinated.”

As part of that, the governor last week announced his Vax-a-Million initiative. Starting tomorrow adults 18 and older who have gotten at least one covid shot can opt in and be eligible for five weekly drawings, each of which will pay $1 million.

DeWine took some heat for the innovation, but he said there’s already evidence that it’s having the desired effect. Health officials said that on Friday — the day after DeWine announced the initiative — more people got shots than on any day over the past three weeks.

“This is the way we get out of this pandemic: more and more people getting vaccinated,” DeWine said.

To motivate younger Ohioans to get shots, the state also is raffling off five full scholarships to state universities.

“We’re just interested in giving people one more fun reason to get vaccinated, DeWine said.

As Ohio gets back to normal, the Republican governor likely will be forced to get back to politics as normal. DeWine has taken heat from the right throughout the pandemic over his health orders.

To former congressman and possible Republican challenger Jim Renacci, even DeWine’s promise to eliminate health orders on June 2 wasn’t enough. They should be gone before Memorial Day, Renacci tweeted Sunday.

DeWine on Monday said he couldn’t concern himself with such things.

“If I were to worry about politics, my (2022) re-election during this pandemic, that would be wrong,” he said.