Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) has stepped up his calls for unvaccinated Ohioans to get a COVID-19 shot amid the rising threat presented by the Delta strain that has quickly spread throughout the state since May.
He said individuals must decide for themselves what precautions to take given what he said is the growing danger Delta presents.
DeWine and Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the Ohio Department of Health’s chief medical officer, cited the rapid spread of the more contagious and potent Delta strain of the virus as another reason the 40 percent of unvaccinated Ohio adults should get one of three available COVID-19 vaccines. That strain in July made up 86 percent of positive tests for the virus, up from less than 1 percent in May.
“Those who are vaccinated are safe,” the governor said in the conference via Zoom, “and those who are not vaccinated are not safe.”
To underscore the danger of remaining unvaccinated, DeWine pointed out that of the 18,662 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ohio since January 1, all but 295 – or 1.6 percent – were unvaccinated.
“It’s just a stark, stark difference,” he said.
Dr. Vanderhoff said the Delta strain also reproduces itself within those infected much more quickly than the dominant variants of a few months ago. “It makes a person sicker, quicker,” he said.
He also said those infected also can more easily infect others.
“Delta spreads like wildfire and seeks out anyone who is unvaccinated,” Dr. Vanderhoff said. “… The vaccines are the key to containing this fire and ultimately putting it out.”
During questioning, DeWine deftly sidestepped one asking if he wishes he still had the power to mandate masks or other public health mandates.
The Ohio General Assembly earlier this year curbed the executive branch’s power to declare public health orders for more than 90 days without the legislature’s consent.
The legislation that DeWine had vetoed went into effect in late June after a legislative override. By then, the governor had already rescinded regulations.
“We’re at the point today where individual choice is the most important thing,” he told reporters. “It’s where we are.”
He added, “My job is to relate to people what we’re seeing.”
Local public health departments also have not mandated masks or social distancing rules since the new law. But Cuyahoga County – anchored by Cleveland – on August 4 recommended residents wear masks indoors. It also has mandated masks for those inside county buildings.
A joint health advisory from the Franklin County and Columbus health departments on August 5 urges residents to wear masks in indoor public venues and crowded areas regardless of vaccination status. The latter advisory cites Centers for Disease Control guidelines for areas like Central Ohio, which have experienced substantial increases in new positive cases.
The four hospital systems serving Greater Columbus in recent weeks have moved toward requiring employees to get vaccinated by this fall in response to the number of the spread of the Delta strain.
Some businesses in and around Columbus also have begun posting signs asking or telling workers and customers to mask up while indoor and not crowd each other. The two Natalie’s performance venues with food service in that market have gone so far as to require patrons to either show proof of vaccination or a clean COVID test for entry.
In a statement to The Ohio Star, the Ohio Restaurant Association said the industry and individual restaurants remain focused on ensuring the health of employees and guests in an effort to stay open.
“We are strong, active advocates for vaccination,” the statement reads, “and we encourage the use of masks for any employee or guest who is unvaccinated or simply is more comfortable doing so.”
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Brian Ball is a reporter for The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Send tips to [email protected]iostar.com.