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Why Ohio Set The Goal Of 50 Coronavirus Cases Per 100,000 People

Two people walk past a sign for COVID-19 testing at the Cleveland Clinic, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Cleveland.
Tony Dejak
Associated Press
Two people walk past a sign for COVID-19 testing at the Cleveland Clinic, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Cleveland.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced last week that he’ll lift the mask mandate, mass gathering ban and other health orders when Ohio’s coronavirus infection rates drop to 50 cases per 100,000 Ohioans, over a two-week period.

"The end of our fight is now in view, but we must continue pressing forward in these final days," DeWine said in a statewide address. "We want all Ohioans to complete this vital mission together."

But why was that metric chosen and how is it being determined?

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health, says that cases are more immediate indicators than either hospitalizations or deaths.

“Dropping below this marker should be a good indication that there’s enough immunity in Ohio, even in the face of infectious variants, is less of a threat," Vanderhoff says.

There are 11.9 million people in Ohio, so that means the level would have to drop to 5,950 cases (or around 425 cases per day) for two straight weeks. Vanderhoff says the case level hasn’t been that low since last June – the state has averaged close to 1,900 cases per day in recent weeks.

DeWine called the goal "very doable," and noted that the statewide infection rate already dropped from 731 cases per 100,000 people on December 3 to 445 cases per 100,000 people on February 3. And right now, Ohio reports a two-week infection rate of 179 cases per 100,000 people.

On a county-by-county basis, however, all but one county – Holmes, in Amish country northeast of Columbus – is significantly above the 50-case goal. More than 20 counties reported infection rates of over 200 cases per 100,000 people in the previous two weeks.

As Ohio continues to make progress with its vaccination effort, though, Vanderhoff says that the benchmark could be met by early summer. As of Sunday, 1.97 million Ohioans have received the coronavirus vaccine, or 16.9% of the population. Of those, 1.1 million are fully vaccinated.

There's still an unknown factor to consider here. Variants of the virus are expected to hit Ohio in coming months, and if that increases the number of cases, it could make it harder to reach the governor's benchmark.

In the meantime, DeWine and health officials say that Ohioans must continue distancing and wearing face masks, which the governor called a "battle-tested" tool.

What lingering questions do you have about COVID-19, the vaccines, or Ohio's response? Ask below and WOSU may answer as part of our A Year Of COVID series.


Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.