COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio will receive close to 100,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine by mid-December, Gov. Mike DeWine announced during a briefing Thursday.
The brief but promising details provided the first look at what vaccine distribution will look like in Ohio as the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise at staggering rates. The Pfizer doses require two for each person taking the vaccine, meaning the initial distribution will only impact around 49,000 Ohioans.
Also Thursday, DeWine made good on earlier threats and vetoed a bill that would restrict the state Health Department’s abilities to issue public health orders during emergencies.
The governor said he would provide further details about the state’s vaccine plan Friday but did disclose the partnership the state will have with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to provide the vaccine to nursing home patients and staff.
“This is a huge, logistical operation made particularly more challenging by the necessity of keeping the vaccine super cold,” DeWine said during the briefing. “We’re going to report the best we can about the progress. We’ll be transparent.”
The encouraging announcement comes as more than 5,000 Ohioans are in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms as of Thursday, with more than 1,200 of those patients in ICUs.
But while the news will prove to be a light at the end of the tunnel for many, doctors warned residents not to let their guards down.
“This not the beginning of the end. This is not even the end of the beginning,” Dr. Andrew Thomas, the chief clinical officer at Ohio State University and a top coronavirus adviser to DeWine, said. “We’re just heading into what the CDC director has described as the most challenging three months of the pandemic.”
Health care workers are just starting to see the impact of the Thanksgiving holiday’s spread of the virus, Thomas added.
The bill vetoed Thursday by DeWine would allow the Legislature to adopt resolutions to rescind Health Department orders to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. It would also prevent the Health Department from implementing regional or statewide quarantines for people who haven’t been directly exposed or diagnosed with the disease.
DeWine said the bill would hamstring the state from responding quickly to situations that might require a quarantine, such as a bioterrorism attack.
“Based on the advice from doctors, nurses, and scientists, I agree that this legislation is not in the interest of public health and the protection of the people of Ohio,” the governor said.
As recently as Wednesday, Republican Senate President Larry Obhof threatened a veto override as soon as this week. But he stepped back from that position Thursday, saying he hopes to work out a compromise with DeWine that might include, for example, removing criminal penalties as punishment for violating a public health order.
Obhof said all sides are focused on keeping people safe and healthy and having rules to enable that. “But I think there’s a significant portion of the Legislature and the general population that believes that government shouldn’t have the ability to say you have to stay in your house and if you don’t, it’s a crime,” Obhof said.
In the meantime, the number of Ohioans applying for unemployment claims remains high despite a slight week-over-week decrease in initial filings, according to figures released Thursday.
DeWine pleaded with Congress to pass another relief bill as eviction moratoriums and unemployment benefits come to an end this month.
“What Congress did before in the spring was phenomenal,” the Republican governor said. “It kept small businesses open. We need something like that again.”
The Department of Job and Family Services says 27,750 Ohioans filed initial jobless claims for the week ending Nov. 28. That’s an 8% drop from the previous week, but higher than claims filed in the first two weeks of November.
The state also says Ohioans filed 256,776 continued unemployment claims last week, considered a more reliable indicator of the economy’s strength. That’s a 3% drop from the previous week but above the figure two weeks ago.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio has risen over the past two weeks from 7,353 new cases per day on Nov. 18 to 7,884 new cases per day on Dec. 2, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by The COVID Tracking Project. One in every 212 people in Ohio tested positive in the past week.
The state also recently surpassed a 15% positivity rate, designating itself on its list of states to avoid traveling to.