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Prom Is Back On: Ohio Lifting Some Coronavirus Restrictions In March

A man cleans the sidewalk in front of the Grandview Theater on May 14, 2020.
David Holm
/
WOSU
A man cleans the sidewalk in front of the Grandview Theater on May 14, 2020.

With hints of spring in the air, Gov. Mike DeWine tantalized Ohioans with prospects of the end of pandemic restrictions and a gradual return to life as we once knew it.

“There’s a bridge to that life, and we have to take that bridge," DeWine said Thursday.

On March 1, DeWine said he will begin to lift the state's COVID-19 restrictions for events and activities. Sporting events and entertainment venues will be able to reopen with 25% of their maximum capacity indoors, and 30% of their maximum capacity outdoors.

Although more detailed guidelines are yet to come, the governor indicated that Ohio's mask mandate will remain in place, social distancing will be required, and those from family units will sit in a pod of no more than six people.

Large sports teams around the state – including the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Indians and Browns, and Cincinnati Reds and Bengals – previously received partial exemptions from the state's mass gathering order, allowing them to invite much more limited numbers of fans into the stands.

DeWine also said that proms, graduations, weddings and other activities should all be able to occur this spring, providing safety precautions are in place. He said they are working on safety protocols for fairs, festivals and parades, and he expects to issue that guidance in the coming days.

He noted that this guidance will reflect current conditions and may be modified if things improve.

“It can be better as circumstances on the ground get better,” noted Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.

Several major events around the state, including the Jazz & Rib Fest and Arts Festival in Columbus and the St. Patrick's Day festival in Cincinnati, have already canceled their 2021 events due to "uncertainty" around the coronavirus.

DeWine also said as of Monday, the state’s behavioral health hospitals will lift restrictions on visitors, with a hope that visitation “will play a role in well-being and recovery.”

And as of Thursday, the state’s two nursing homes for veterans are now again admitting new residents. The facilities in Sandusky and Georgetown have not accepted new people since March of last year.

DeWine emphasized that two things will determine how successfully and quickly Ohio can return to a pre-pandemic normal: the continuing vaccination of residents, and the continued wearing of masks for the foreseeable future.

“Until we get this herd immunity, we have to continue to wear masks. We have to continue to be careful,” DeWine said.

Vaccinations continue to show promising results in Ohio nursing homes. DeWine said last week, there were 369 new cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes, a significant decline from 2,832 new cases reported in one week in December.

“Obviously we’re not satisfied yet,” DeWine said. “We want to continue to drive these numbers down.”

DeWine said an increase in supply will help. Next week, the state will receive 310,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. With vaccination of school personnel finishing, the doses will be able to make a more significant dent in the population age 65 and over.

Currently, DeWine said data shows nearly 27% of Ohioans age 65-69 have taken the vaccine, compared to 60% of those age 80 and up.

He encouraged residents to help others who are vaccine eligible, but who may not have internet access to sign up for a shot or lack transportation to a vaccination location.

“We need to continue to get shots in arms,” DeWine said.

Another cause of optimism is the prospect of a third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson soon being approved and available. DeWine hopes that vaccine will get the green light from the FDA in the next few days.

“When that light goes on, we believe in the first week this would be an additional 90,000 doses” the state would receive," DeWine said, adding to the 310,000 doses Ohio is already expected to receive.

DeWine indicated the state will continue prioritizing the vaccination of older populations for more several weeks, because “87% of all deaths have occurred in those age 65 and up.”

DeWine said the state will broaden the retailers where vaccines are being provided, to include some Walmart and Meijer locations as well as additional independent pharmacies.

What questions do you have about COVID-19 and Ohio's response? Tell us below, and WOSU may report the answer for a future story.

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