Ohioans urged to get vaccinated to avoid Michigan surge

Tom Troy and Jim Provance, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·5 min read

Apr. 9—COLUMBUS — Ohio's medical director predicted Thursday that the UK variant of coronavirus fueling a fourth infection wave in neighboring Michigan will, within weeks, become Ohio's dominant coronavirus strain as well.

But Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said he doesn't expect its Ohio severity to match that in Michigan, which has emerged as the hottest of virus hot spots right now.

"We in Ohio have the benefit of having a period of weeks of head start in terms of vaccine before B. 1.1.7 really began gaining traction, and that is crucial time," he said. "I am not anticipating that the experience in Ohio is going to be what we've seen in Michigan."

But that is still dependent, he said, on Ohioans continuing to mask up, practice social distancing, and get vaccination shots in their arms.

"We're in a race," Dr. Vanderhoff said. "When you're in a race, you can't flag as you're reaching the end of the race."

His words came as operators of the Ohio State Fair announced it will not open to the general public this summer, but instead focus on 4-H and other agricultural and educational competitions.

The state crossed the one-third threshold on Thursday in terms of the portion of its total population that has at least started a vaccination cycle. Among them are the 20.3 percent who've completed the cycle.

That compares to 33 percent and 21.7 percent, respectively, in Lucas County and 38.3 percent and 23.3 percent in Wood County.

Ohio's number of confirmed UK-variant cases has doubled every nine to 10 days, a rate similar to its spread during the surge in the United Kingdom. It has climbed from 92 cases in Ohio on March 12 to 787 as of Thursday.

A few weeks ago, when Ohio's infection numbers were declining and Gov. Mike DeWine was voicing optimism about lifting all of his emergency health order restrictions, Ohio did away with its regularly updated travel advisory map warning Ohioans about traveling to certain state hotspots and urging self-quarantine upon return.

There is no discussion now about reviving that map despite new hot spots on its borders.

"We are seeing our [test] positivity rate go up," Mr. DeWine said. "We're certainly not anywhere in the same ballpark where Michigan's is, nor are our case numbers. But we certainly are headed in the wrong direction.

"Whether we put a [travel] advisory on or not, I would suggest that people who are thinking about traveling anywhere take a look at what the data is in that place they're going to," the governor said.

New coronavirus infections in Ohio blew past the 21-day average and spiked hard enough in Lucas County to prompt an alert from the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

The state reported 2,742 cases — well above its already rising three-week average of 1,801. New hospitalizations numbered 111, above the 88 daily average for the last three weeks. New intensive-care admissions more than doubled that rolling average with 21.

The state did not report updated death numbers on Thursday. The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department reported 107 new infections, bringing its pandemic total to 38,676, while its death count held at 798.

Perhaps the most watched statewide number these days is the average number of new cases per day per 100,000 people over the prior two-week period. That number rose to 183.7 on Thursday. A week ago it was 167. Mr. DeWine has said that he would lift all of his health orders once number dropped below 50 and held there.

Lucas County, on Michigan's doorstep, currently has Ohio's second-highest coronavirus infection rate, with 300 per 100,000 people. It trails only Hancock County at 336.5. Toledo had an currently infected population of 1,285 people.

Governor DeWine announced that 5,000 additional vaccine doses were shipped to Lucas County this week because of the rising numbers. The local health department appealed to unvaccinated people to get the shots. They can schedule appointments at www.lucascountyhealth.com/covidvaccine.

While the Ohio State Fair, set for July 27 through Aug. 7, will not be canceled outright as it was last year, the Ohio Exposition Commission determined that current restrictions make it financially infeasible to run a large-scale event complete with carnival rides, concerts, and food vendors, such an event's revenue drivers.

"The financial ramifications of hosting a typical Ohio State Fair with the same overhead costs, but far less revenue, could be devastating to our organization," said Virgil Strickler, the fair's general manager. "In a typical year, the Ohio State Fair's budget is designed to break even with a nominal profit, if any. Hosting a full fair this year would likely lead to significant financial loss."

Attendance at competitions will be limited to exhibitors and their families and guests.

County fairs will have to make similar decisions as summer approaches.

Mr. DeWine also announced Thursday that Ohio will take some of the coronavirus dollars it is receiving from the federal government to pay off debt it continues to incur to pay unemployment benefits.

Ohio's unemployment trust fund, underwritten by premiums employers pay, ran dry just months into the pandemic, and the state has since drawn down nearly half of what is essentially a $3 billion federal line of credit to stay afloat.

The loan is interest-free for now, but using the federal dollars to pay down the debt would protect employers from future premium surcharges later.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has flagged for potential fraud about 3,700 of just under 45,000 new claims for unemployment benefits filed last week.

During the pandemic's 55 weeks so far, just under 3.2 million Ohioans have filed claims — more than the total filed between 2013 and 2019.

In addition, 283,201 Ohioans continued existing claims for traditional and extended benefits. Just under 95,000 more received Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for self-employed, contract, gig, and other workers not eligible for traditional benefits.

The state has distributed a total of $9.3 billion in traditional benefits to 984,000 people and $10.1 billion in PUA to more than 1 million.

First Published April 8, 2021, 12:18pm