Gov. Mike DeWine announced May 12 that Ohio will remove most pandemic health orders on June 2 and has since amended Ohio’s COVID-19 health orders to conform to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines.
DeWine gave Ohioans three weeks’ notice on lifting health orders to provide those who have not been vaccinated with time to get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the first dose of Pfizer or Moderna, according to his address to Ohio.
On May 13, the CDC updated its recommendations for vaccinated individuals, announcing that those who are fully vaccinated may resume activities without wearing masks or staying six feet apart, unless federal, state or local restrictions apply.
Following this announcement, DeWine updated Ohio’s mask mandates and social distancing orders and is now recommending that those who are unvaccinated continue to wear masks, while those who are vaccinated may return to everyday activities without mask or distancing restrictions.
“Lifting these orders does not mean the virus is gone,” DeWine said in a tweet. “Each Ohio citizen will make their own decisions about wearing a mask and social distancing — and when, for them, that’s appropriate.”
Jack Pepper, an administrator at the Athens City-County Health Department, said the department has been anticipating the day that public health orders would be lifted and believes it may benefit local businesses.
“We were well aware that the orders weren't going to hang around in perpetuity,” Pepper said. “It would be reasonable to expect…that (businesses) would see an increase in their bottom line because they, in all likelihood, will be able to return to full capacity.”
However, DeWine also said businesses and schools will make their own decisions about how to best keep their customers, employees and students safe.
Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, does not believe the governor's announcement regarding pandemic health orders will affect Ohio University's Fall Semester COVID-19 planning.
“There is still risk of spread of the disease and, as people travel over the summer and attend gatherings, a risk remains on campus, particularly until a large majority of our campus community is vaccinated,” Ice said in an email.
Ice also said this announcement will not impact the schedule for fall. OU is already offering most classes with some in-person activity as a significant risk of community spread remains until OU reaches high rates of vaccination and lower case rates on campus, she said.
Pepper does not believe the loosening state COVID-19 restrictions will lead to an uptick in vaccinations.
“I don't think that the masking ordinance, or many of the restrictions that are in place currently, is going to have a great impact on vaccine uptake,” Pepper said. “It really seems like, at this point, that people that want the vaccine have gotten it and those that still have questions haven't gotten it.”
Despite this prediction, the health department is offering both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines at their upcoming summer clinics. Those who plan to be vaccinated may choose which vaccine they wish to receive.
OU is continuing to encourage students to get vaccinated and update their COVID-19 guidelines as needed.
“We continue to work toward our goal of at least 70 percent of our campus community vaccinated and fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 among our community,” Ice said in an email. “We will also continue to evaluate our mask policy and all precautionary measures as new information becomes available.”
Despite the steps being taken to vaccinate students and return to a greater sense of normalcy in the fall, Ice has suggested OU is still not likely to achieve its goal.
“Based on the national and state trends, I do not expect more than 50 percent of the OHIO community to be vaccinated at the start of fall semester,” Ice said in an email. “While I hope it isn’t the case, I expect that we will start fall semester with a high rate of spread.”
Ryan Maxin contributed to this report.