Ohio Gov Mike DeWine and Ohio Health Department Director Stephanie McCloud signed off on an amended order Thursday that reopened self-service food stations in restaurants, bars, banquet and catering facilities, and services, as long as the following conditions are met:
• Facial coverings must be worn, and those unable to do so must be served by an employee.
• Buffet tables/salad bars must be a minimum of 6 feet away from customer seating/tables, and lines can’t extend into the seating area.
• Customer flow at buffet tables/salad bars must move in one direction with a beginning and ending point, and customers must maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing while in line.
• Customers must use hand sanitizer prior to and after serving themselves, and the sanitizer must be placed at the front and end of the line at self-serve food stations.
• Six feet of social distancing must be maintained between seated customers and customers in line for a buffet/salad bar, and must be monitored by employees.
• Serving utensils must be replaced, or cleaned and sanitized hourly. It is recommended that customers use disposable napkins, tissues, wax paper, etc., when handling serving utensils, and operators of self-service food stations are encouraged to make them available, with a trash receptacle conveniently located nearby.
• Individually packaged condiments are recommended instead of shared or bulk condiment dispensers.
• Commonly touched surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized frequently.
• Staff who are trained in food safety must monitor self-serve areas while in operation, including monitoring customer hand sanitizing practices at the self-service food station.
• Food must be protected from contamination, including sneeze guards on self-serve equipment.
• Signage must be placed at self-service food stations reminding customers to use hand sanitizer before and after serving themselves, and to maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing while in line, in addition to recommending the use of disposable napkins, tissues, wax paper, etc., when handling serving utensils.
DeWine announced that Ohio received a total of 214,525 first doses of vaccine last week, with a total of 223,025 first doses scheduled to arrive in Ohio during the week of Feb. 15.
Quantities of the COVID-19 vaccine remain very limited in Highland County, according to health commissioner Jared Warner, who said in his Wednesday Facebook post that last week 300 doses of vaccine had been delivered for the whole county.
Starting Monday, Feb. 15, he said the county as a whole is scheduled to receive 600 doses.
DeWine said the federal retail pharmacy program would soon begin allotting doses to Ohio’s more than 160 Rite Aid pharmacies and would also expand it to all 194 Kroger pharmacies in the state.
As part of continuing efforts in the Phase 1B inoculation program, he said that those with specific medical conditions that put them at a very high risk of dying from COVID-19 will be eligible for vaccinations next week.
“Ohioans born with the medical conditions outlined, or those who were diagnosed in early childhood whose conditions continued into adulthood, will qualify to be vaccinated beginning on Feb. 15,” he said.
Those medical conditions are cerebral palsy; spina bifida; severe congenital heart disease requiring hospitalization within the past year; severe type 1 diabetes requiring hospitalization within the past year; inherited metabolic disorders including phenylketonuria, severe neurological disorders including epilepsy, hydrocephaly, and microcephaly; severe genetic disorders including Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Turner syndrome and muscular dystrophy; severe lung disease, including asthma requiring hospitalization within the past year and cystic fibrosis; sickle cell anemia; alpha and beta thalassemia; and solid organ transplant patients.
“If you are not sure if you qualify under any of these categories, contact your health care provider and talk to them,” Warner advised. “Vaccine remains very limited, and we want to be sure that we are able to protect the most vulnerable people in our community.”
In other COVID-19 news, DeWine said the number of cases in Ohio’s nursing homes had dropped more than 77 percent since late November.
Figures from the Ohio Department of Health showed that there were 2,697 COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities in the state during the week of Nov. 29, 202o, and that during the week of Jan. 17, the number dropped to 612 positive cases.
He credited the dramatic decrease to Ohio’s aggressive efforts at vaccinating residents and staff in Ohio’s long-term care facilities.
An important part of the Phase 1B vaccination program was to have children back in a physical school classroom by March 1, and DeWine shared the latest information on the number of school districts that are physically in school versus those that are fully or partially remote.
As a condition to receive priority access to the vaccine, schools were required to commit to full or partial in-person learning by March 1.
All but one school district in Ohio have committed to the plan.
As of Friday, the state health department reported a cumulative total of 934,742 COVID-19 cases since last March, with 852,653 deemed to have made a complete recovery.
A large increase in the number of confirmed and probable deaths from the coronavirus — 15,136 — was attributed to ODH reconciling the number of deaths, including 2,500 in Friday’s report alone.
State health officials said the reconciliation primarily reflected deaths between November and December of last year, and that newly reported deaths would be higher in the next several days as the agency completed its reconciliation efforts.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.