Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday outlined efforts to expand coronavirus vaccine availability in Ohio where he reported that about one-third of the population has received shots as case counts increase.
DeWine reported that the COVID-19 case numbers are "going in the wrong direction" with a "significant" rise in cases.
Richland County remains under a Level 3, red status in Ohio's color-coded coronavirus health advisory system.
"Red" represents very high exposure and spread of COVID-19.
Ohio's variant counts involving coronavirus jumped from 92 on March 12 to 797 on Thursday, the state's chief medical officer, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, said at the governor's briefing, remarks that also were posted on Twitter.
"That's a doubling time of about every 9-10 days. Ohio remains in a very important race against the virus and its variants. We can win the race if we continue to press on with consistent masking and getting the vaccine," Vanderhoff said.
Vanderhoff said: "It is clear that Ohio and the nation are enduring another wave of COVID-19. This time it is being driven by new variants of the original virus."
The variants were described as more contagious and more deadly than the original virus as the evidence mounts.
DeWine said that beginning Monday in Ohio, vaccine providers may partner with other organizations, such as employers, labor unions, churches and others to hold closed-pod vaccination clinics with these organizations.
"We continue to encourage employers and other organizations to reach out to their local health departments and vaccine providers to set up these vaccination clinics," DeWine added. "Vaccine providers and local health departments should also be proactive in contacting local employers as well."
Similarly, DeWine said he is continuing to encourage health departments to reach out to high schools to help set up vaccinations for eligible students who want to be vaccinated.
"This week we also began providing vaccines to providers that are partnering with colleges/universities," DeWine said.
Ohio has had to borrow money from the federal government for the unemployment fund, and that debt is currently about $1.46 billion, DeWine said.
"I am recommending to the General Assembly that we use a portion of our federal COVID relief and recovery dollars to pay off the unemployment insurance loan owed to the federal government," DeWine said.
This loan was caused by the global pandemic, DeWine stated.
"Paying this off now will free Ohio employers from this burden so they can instead focus on getting employees across our state back to work," he said. "This will help small businesses across our state and their employees."
DeWine is asking Ohio House and Ohio Senate leaders to address the state's unemployment insurance fund.
In his update, DeWine called it a "structural problem."
DeWine reported seeing good economic signs.
"Ohio’s GDP outpaced the nation in the final quarter of calendar year 2020 – the U.S. GDP is estimated to have grown 4.3% in the quarter, and Ohio’s GDP is estimated to have increased 5% during the same timeframe," he said.
"Ohio’s unemployment rate in February 2021 was 5 percent, and the national rate was 6.2 percent," DeWine said.
State revenues are recovering, he also reported.
"This month, Ohio’s tax revenues exceeded the monthly estimate by $41 million, or 2.6% and remain 4.3% above the estimate for the fiscal year-to-date," DeWine said. "This is a dramatic improvement from one year ago at the onset of the pandemic."