At his afternoon press briefing Wednesday, Gov. Mike DeWine said that the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine program would be aimed at Ohioans 65 or older, the staff members of Ohio schools, and young people who have severe inherited or developmental disorders.
Although an exact timeline hasn’t been laid out, the governor said he hopes to get the Phase 1B program groups vaccinated as soon as new shipments arrive, possibly by the middle of next month.
Additionally, the governor said the vaccine will also be made available to schools in hopes of getting children back in the classroom, perhaps as early as March.
“We will make the vaccine available to the schools to accomplish the goal of getting kids back to class,” he said. “Our kids are our future. It is our priority to get all of Ohio’s children in grades K-12 back in the classroom for in-person learning.”
He said that the state will offer the vaccine to all schools that want to go back or to continue with in-class learning, adding that any and all staff members in the state’s school districts could get the vaccine if they want it.
Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner, in his Wednesday Facebook update, wrote that the addition of school staff was a new and somewhat unexpected development, but felt that their inclusion made sense from a practical perspective.
“Highland County has worked extremely close with our school systems to try and find ways to safely remain open throughout the pandemic,” Warner said. “The few times that schools have had to close temporarily has been due to staffing shortages. Protecting school staff will help these schools stay in session.”
He also questioned the time frame for the Phase 1B rollout, saying he thought it would be difficult to predict where the county would be with the current Phase 1A priority groups by Feb. 1, and thought that would be the date his office would need to be at in order to begin the first rounds of vaccinations for any interested school staff.
During the current Phase 1A inoculation program, the vaccine is being provided to a limited number of Ohioans which includes:
• Health care providers and personnel who are routinely involved with the care of COVID-19 patients.
• Long-term nursing facility residents and staff.
• Assisted living facility residents and staff.
• Residents and staff at Ohio’s veterans homes.
• Psychiatric hospitals patients and staff.
• People with developmental disabilities and those with mental health disorders, including substance use disorders, who live in group homes, residential facilities or centers, and the staff at those locations.
• Emergency medical services responders.
Warner said in Wednesday’s Facebook post that active case rates locally were continuing to decrease, with the per capita case rate dropping to 836.40, and that although hospital admissions were down, emergency room and outpatient visits remained steady.
“All of our COVID-19 trends are level or improving except for regional death rates,” he said. “Our regional COVID-19 fatality rate is at an all-time high. I think this is the continued fallout from our rapid increase in COVID-19 cases over the last month or so. As we have discussed before, deaths are a lagging indicator, and they tend to peak a couple of weeks later than increases in COVID-19 cases.”
He said his department was working to compile lists of Phase 1A groups so the vaccine could be distributed quickly to the county’s priority groups.
“Just to be extra clear, and to reduce the phone calls we are getting, no one in Highland County has any vaccine available yet for the general public,” Warner said. “We also can’t take advanced registration or put anyone on a waiting list. Once we get more vaccine availability and work our way through our priority lists, we will advertise public clinics on Facebook, our webpage, and in the local newspapers. Until then, please be patient.”
He described the past nine months as being “a long, strategic retreat from COVID-19.”
“We haven’t been able to do much more than try to slow down disease transmission and protect the most vulnerable in our community,” he said. “These new COVID-19 vaccines give us the opportunity to truly go on the offensive for the first time since this pandemic began, and that is something that has me feeling hopeful and excited for the next few months. This isn’t the end, but it is the beginning of the end.”
He noted that the health department would reopen after the Christmas holiday weekend on Monday, Dec. 28 at 8 a.m.
DeWine echoed Warner’s sentiments as he wrapped up his Wednesday afternoon briefing.
“Everyone in Ohio who wants this vaccine will at some point be able to get it,” he said. “It just can’t all happen now.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.