With COVID-19 cases declining in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced via Twitter that COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted once there are 50 cases per 100,000 people for two weeks.
This will lift all health orders, such as capacity limits for businesses, throughout the state.
With the decrease in restrictions, Jack Pepper, Athens City-County Health Department administrator, said he hopes it will have a small impact on cases.
“We are hopeful that the lift on restrictions will have little impact, but we will certainly continue to monitor COVID-19 metrics carefully to ensure the disease remains controlled,” Pepper said in an email.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson believes the decline in restrictions will not impact case numbers due to the pace at which they are lifted.
“I think that with the gradual easement of the restrictions, it’s not going to have that great of an impact on Athens,” Patterson said.
Patterson said he is looking to see an increase in vaccinations within Athens in order to lift the restrictions.
“To me, it's purely the number of individuals in our county, and really the state, being vaccinated,” Patterson said. “When you've got ... 56,000 people in the county that have not been vaccinated yet, we still have ways to go.”
Pepper said the health department is also looking for the number of hospital visits to decline.
“We watch all the same benchmarks as the Governor and the Ohio Department of Health,” Pepper said in an email. “Since the onset of the pandemic we have also paid very close attention to health system capacity, number of ICU patients, number of ED (emergency department) visits, number of outpatient visits and what is happening in our congregate care settings.”
Additionally, Patterson said Athens received a mobile vaccine unit for remote areas in Athens, which will aid in COVID-19 guidelines being lifted.
“I also feel good about the fact that Athens County was selected to receive a mobile vaccination unit that will enable the vaccine to be delivered to the harder to reach, or harder to commute, areas throughout Athens County and beyond,” Patterson said.
However, even with restrictions possibly being lifted at the state level, Patterson said he will not be lifting the mask mandate.
“My strongest thing is to not lift the face covering mandate as well as don't completely remove gathering (limits),” Patterson said. “The things that I have seen in terms of changes is that outdoor venues and indoor entertainment venues have been allowed to increase by 30% capacity and 20% capacity, where it used to be 15% capacity.”
With this increase in capacity guidelines, bars and restaurants Uptown will be able to allow more patrons inside their establishments.
However, Megan Meyer, co-owner of Bagel Street Deli, said her establishment is not ready to increase capacity. Meyer said Bagel Street Deli will be making changes to comply with the reduction of COVID-19 restrictions.
“We are expanding our business so that we do have the room to offer safe in person service/dining. That will be in August hopefully!” Meyer said in an email.
With the decrease in restrictions across the state, Patterson said Athens citizens still need to be cognizant of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Don't let your guard down, continue to social distance, continue to wear a mask when you're out in public, or you're entering into a place that is open to the public,” Patterson said. “Just continue to do what we have been doing for a year now, give or take, and continue to be vigilant.”