Updated: 4:21 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020
The state will provide vaccines to school staff in early 2021 to encourage a return to in-person learning, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Wednesday.
Any school moving from remote to in-person learning will have access to vaccines for adults working in the buildings as part of the state’s second stage of vaccine distribution, the governor said, which is coming after healthcare workers and those living and working in congregate care settings are vaccinated.
The next phase of vaccinations also will include a focus on vaccinating those 65 and older, who account for a majority of Ohio’s coronavirus-related deaths, as well as populations with certain inherited or developmental disorders. The state is still ironing out details on how to administer those vaccines.
“We looked at where to draw the line, and it was clear this was the most at-risk group,” DeWine said. “Sixty-five and up comprise almost 87 percent of the deaths in the state of Ohio. It really is an astounding, astounding, figure.”
There is no official date to begin rolling out the next phase of vaccine distribution, DeWine said, citing mid-January as the goal, with the intention of having students back in classrooms by March 1. The state will first consider schools returning to fulltime in-person learning for vaccine access, DeWine said.
Parents can continue to opt for remote learning for their children, he said.
The Ohio Education Association issued a statement supporting the plan to include school staff and faculty in the next phase of vaccinations. The union representing most of Ohio’s teachers said the decision shows DeWine is committed to prioritizing education in pandemic response plans.
“We are grateful to Governor DeWine for listening to the concerns of the state’s educators, who have been nothing short of heroic in their efforts to reach and teach Ohio’s students through extremely difficult circumstances, often being forced to put their own safety and that of their families and communities on the line,” OEA President Scott DiMauro said in the statement.
The OEA will encourage vaccination for all members who are eligible, the statement said, but encourages schools to continue following CDC guidelines to remain safe to protect those who are still at risk.
“Because the vaccines have not been approved for children, pregnant women, or some other adults, including those who are prone to severe allergic reactions, many people in our schools will remain unprotected from the virus,” DiMauro said.
The association is asking the state to prioritize high-poverty areas and communities of color, where the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact.
State officials did caution schools against an immediate return to in-person learning following the holiday break. The risk of accidental exposure at family gatherings could spread to the classroom, said Ohio Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.
“Kids, being kids, may have some exposures. Giving it a little more time allows for that space, allows for anything that may have occurred to not carry over,” Vanderhoff said.
Vanderhoff and DeWine urged Ohioans to stay home for the holidays to prevent further spread of the virus, even as vaccinations begin.
Learning remotely has had a negative impact on many students, DeWine said, and the state wants families to have the option to attend school in person if that is what works best for them. About 71 percent of school-aged students in the state are currently partially or fully remote, DeWine said.
“Some do better, some do okay, but there are those who certainly do not do as well, and those are the ones we need to be concerned about,” DeWine said in a Wednesday coronavirus briefing. “I believe it’s time to get all our children who want to be in class, back in class. That is our goal.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not approved administering the coronavirus vaccine to those under 16 years old, DeWine said, so the vaccine will not be available for students.
Vaccine Rollout Underway
Several counties across Ohio have begun administering the first round of coronavirus vaccinations to frontline healthcare workers and first responders, including Cuyahoga County. DeWine thanked individual recipients for doing their part to end the pandemic, and emphasized the need for more healthcare workers to be vaccinated.
“They are protecting us every single day and we need to protect them,” DeWine said. “We need them out there. That’s why they’re in this first group.”
There were 7,790 new coronavirus cases in Ohio as of Wednesday afternoon, DeWine reported, which is below average for the past three weeks. The state also confirmed 109 more deaths and 491 new hospitalizations.
Richland, Huron and Sandusky counties are in the top 10 for highest incidence rate in the state.
Representatives from Lake, Clark and Tuscarawas counties, as well as the state-run Twin Valley Psychiatric Hospital, appeared during the press conference to administer vaccinations to fire and rescue employees and emergency room doctors.
“This is an opportunity for change,” said Dr. Carol Cunningham, State Medical Director for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Medical Services. “We have a safe and effective way to actually prevent this disease with a vaccine.”
Cunningham was featured first in the succession of vaccine recipients, and urged other first responders to follow suit as the state rolls out its first phase.
“Many of our EMS agencies have been strained due to loss of manpower, secondary to people becoming ill and unable to work, yet the needs are increasing,” Cunningham said. “Unfortunately, our first fatality due to COVID-19 in Lake County was actually one of our EMS providers.”
The first phase of vaccinations will continue and may overlap with the second phase, DeWine said.
The vaccination dashboard created by the state is lagging behind actual numbers of Ohioans who have received a shot, the governor said, but distribution is underway and the data will catch up as soon as possible.
“This is one more example of a very antiquated health department system that the experts have tried to rig up and keep going and to spit out data, more data than it's ever put out before,” DeWine said. “One of the problems is the way the system is set up. Some of these have to be done by hand and verified by hand.”
State officials also announced an effort to distribute more masks and personal protective equipment through the Bureau for Workers’ Compensation. The BWC has already distributed 23 million masks to the workforce, said Lt. Gov. John Husted, and will send out another 23 million masks from now through the first half of 2021.
The effort will ensure businesses are prepared for the pandemic, he said, while also supporting Ohio companies.
“We don’t want to find ourselves in this position again, where we are reliant on PPE that has to be produced in foreign nations,” Husted said. “Sometimes, those nations, are not friends of ours.”
The second round of masks is Ohio-made, Husted said, including businesses based in Cleveland. The Buckeye Mask Co. will produce 10 million masks for the initiative, and the Career Development and Places Strategies Group will produce 13 million.
DeWine also introduced two new maps to measure community spread in the state of Ohio. One measurement tracks the number of cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks, showing a time lapse of the virus’ continued spread. The second graphic maps regional intensive care unit utilization for COVID-19 patients. The maps will be updated every week to show how the virus is progressing, DeWine said.
DeWine also spoke on negotiations regarding Senate Bill 311, which would restrict the powers of the governor and health department. DeWine vetoed the bill in July and though state Senate leadership indicated there were enough votes to override the governor, the chamber adjourned late Tuesday night without doing so.
Recent negotiations on the measure have included a discussion of possible inequities created under shutdown orders, DeWine said.
“Let's say you wanted to buy jewelry and the local jewelry was closed, but the Wal-Mart was open because they were selling groceries.” DeWine said. “There was an inequity there. We were trying to look at that inequity going forward.”
DeWine did not comment further on negotiations or a potential vote. State lawmakers have scheduled a session after Christmas.