DeWine has no immediate plan to open vaccinations groups below 65

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Tom Troy and Jim Provance, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·4 min read
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Feb. 22—COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday that the next step in expanding eligibility for coronavirus vaccinations will be to further lower the age threshold to 60, then 55, and then 50, but he stressed that is still weeks away.

"We're going to stay at 65 and older because it is the age group where 87 percent of all deaths have occurred...," Mr. DeWine said. "We will remain at 65 until we've basically satisfied that demand of that age group....We are also looking at small groups that, because of special exposure, we may add in there once we go below 65."

He declined to note which "small groups" he is considering adding to the eligibility list. He has noted that his office has received letters from 700 groups that have asked to either join the existing line for vaccines or be included in the next batch.

Among them have been police officers, child care workers, funeral home employees, grocery store employees, parents of vulnerable children, and food service employees.

In addition to those age 65 and older, current eligibility includes K-12 school employees, nursing homes, and people with certain congenital and developmental conditions like cystic fibrosis and Down syndrome.

So far, 23 percent of Ohioans 65-69 have been vaccinated, followed by 37 percent of those 70-74, 49 percent of Ohioans 75-79, and 59 percent of those 80 and older.

Mr. DeWine said that the state's efforts to protect Ohio's most vulnerable population are working. Last week, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities reported just 343 new cases, compared with 2,832 when case numbers peaked in December.

"We are definitely making progress," the governor said.

Ohio reported 1,661 new coronavirus cases on Monday, continuing to drag down the 21-day average, now at 2,681.

Fifty-eight new deaths were also reported, far below the artificially inflated 21-day average of 269. The average remains high as state officials continue to add nearly 4,000 previous deaths that were erroneously not reported in late 2020.

The state has reached a total of 955,378 cases and 16,874 deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

As the key indicators continue to fall, Mr. DeWine said he could announce on Thursday that outdoor professional sports teams — particularly baseball teams like the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, and Toledo Mud Hens whose seasons begin in April — could start with their stadiums 30 percent full.

"We reached out to them and said we think we're going to be around 30 percent," the governor said. "We want to see your plan. We want to see how you're able to get social distancing."

Fans would be required to wear masks.

His optimism, however, came with a dose of caution.

"The variant is out there in Ohio," he said. "Our best medical information is that it may very well become dominant in Ohio by the latter part of March. We don't really know what's going to happen after that."

He was also not ready to offer advice to people thinking about scheduling weddings, family reunions, and similar events this summer.

"I wish I had a crystal ball," he said. "I wish I knew what the future will be. I'm not being sarcastic...No one can answer that question at this point."

While federal rules restrict how much indoor visitation is permitted at nursing homes, Mr. DeWine stressed that there are exceptions for compassionate care visits. In addition to end-of-life visits, that can include cases where new patients aren't acclimating to their new surroundings, their dementia is worsening, or they're losing weight because of a lack of contact with loved ones.

"If you have a loved one who needs a compassionate care visit, that loved one is not getting that visit, and you're being stopped from visiting, you have rights," he said. "You are empowered to get that visit scheduled."

The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department reported 272 new cases and three new deaths since Friday, totaling 34,488 cases and 702 deaths. Wood County reported 76 new infections, for a total of 11,357, and one death, for a total of 191, since Thursday.

So far, more than 1.45 million people, or 12.4 percent of the population, have received at least the first of two shots. The percentage vaccinated locally was nearly 14 percent in Lucas County and 13.7 percent in Wood County.

First Published February 22, 2021, 2:01pm