PORTSMOUTH — Just as St. Patrick is known for ridding Ireland of snakes, local health departments have continued their mission of ridding Portsmouth and Scioto County of the coronavirus.
Seeing that process in-action, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio first lady Fran DeWine visited the Portsmouth City Health Department’s vaccine drive-thru event Wednesday.
“I think both Scioto County and Portsmouth are doing very well,” DeWine told reporters outside the Washington Street building, where more than 15,000 have received at least one dose of vaccine. “One thing that we always find that makes us feel very good is when you talk to people who have had their vaccination and are very happy about it. This is the only time I’ve seen people be happy about seeing a needle.”
At the mass-vaccine event, where Portsmouth City Health Commissioner Chris Smith said 245 city residents received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the urging of the public to take the vaccine when it’s their turn was the continued message.
“The big message we need to get out is that we absolutely need to reach 80% vaccinated in the county,” he said, the city receiving anywhere from 100 to 500 doses per week and 21% of the county started on the vaccines, according to the Ohio Department of Health vaccination dashboard.
Part of his travels throughout the state, later stopping in Chillicothe that day, the governor said the local and statewide picture was promising as cases fall and vaccine supply rises.
DeWine said the state has been receiving roughly 400,000 doses each week, where it is projected that will jump to 500,000 by the end of March. With this increased supply, the state is expanding the eligibility to those 40 and older effective Friday and those 16 and older by March 29.
Included in that later demographic are Shawnee State University students, where its health clinic is enrolled to be a vaccine provider when available. Belonging primarily to the 20-29 age group, less than 1,000 in Scioto have started the process and slightly more than 700 have received two doses as of Tuesday.
“The youth are not as at-risk, but they can be big carriers,” DeWine said, those under the age of 29 contributing for 26 of the nearly 18,000 Ohio deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. “They don’t want to carry the virus to their older family members.”
With these encouraging trends, some legislative members in the Ohio General Assembly are crafting bills to either limit DeWine’s authority or outright do away with health orders. Most recently, State Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, introduced legislation earlier this month that would remove the state’s mask mandate in place since July 23- 10 days after Portsmouth City Council voted to install their own mandate in the city.
“Cases are decreasing dramatically, and vaccine distribution is increasing rapidly,” said Powell in a release describing House Bill 202. “This bill supports individual freedom and allows Ohioans to make the choice of whether or not they voluntarily want to wear a mask.”
A day will come for those orders to be lifted, but DeWine said that day will not be today, tomorrow, or any time real soon. If the state’s COVID numbers continue this pace, the earliest he said the state would do away with its mask mandate is in seven weeks.
The needed measure to do so is 50 cases per 100,000 residents over the course of two weeks; Ohio’s 19,076 cases since March 3 bringing the current measure to be 163 cases per 100,000.
“We are happy where we are, but we certainly have a ways to go,” said DeWine, promising to veto any legislative action that crosses his desk. “We’re on offense with the vaccine, but we also have to stay on defense with the masks. The virus is still out, it’s not going away.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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