Governor Mike DeWine during a February COVID-19 press conference. (Richland Source file photo)

COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine, saying the COVID-19 “finish line is in sight,” announced Thursday he will lift all health orders when the state falls below 50 new cases per 100,000 residents in a two-week period.

“Achieving this goal is very doable. We can do this and I know we will,” he said.

The governor, declaring COVID-19 vaccines have put the state “on offense” against the virus, made the announcement in a statewide, late-afternoon broadcast, coming nearly one year after the first coronavirus cases were diagnosed in Ohio.

It’s the first time since the pandemic began that DeWine has announced a benchmark for lifting statewide health orders.

“One year ago today, our battle against COVID-19 began. That was our first full day in this fight, and none of us then fully understood the battle ahead,” the governor said.

“This has been a tough year. Many have lost a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a spouse, and some have even lost a child,” he said.

“Yet we did what Ohioans always do– we rallied together. We sacrificed. We worked hard to protect the most vulnerable,” DeWine said.

On Dec. 3, Ohio was at 731 cases per 100,000 people for a two-week priod. That figure declined to 445 on Feb. 3 and dropped to 179 new cases on Thursday.

Hospitalizations have also continued to drop from December highs, down 77 percent in the last two months, according to the Ohio Hospital Association as of Thursday.

“Ohio is on the right path to get to us to 50, and this is thanks to the vaccine and the hard work you are doing every day to help mitigate the virus,” DeWine said.

“The vaccine is the most efficient, effective, and powerful weapon. Our vaccination plan has been to prioritize Ohioans most likely to die if they get the virus: older Ohioans, those with severe developmental disabilities, and those with serious, life-threatening medical conditions,” he said.

DeWine said the state now has three vaccines against the virus, including the new one-shot product offered by Johnson & Johnson. More than 1.8 million state residents, about 15 percent of the state’s population, have at least one dose of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

As of Thursday, Ohio residents 60 or older can try to obtain a vaccine, as well as law enforcement officers, child care workers and funeral service employees.

“The end of our fight is now in view. We must continue pressing forward in these final days. We want all Ohioans to finish this vital mission together,” DeWine said.

The governor, who announced Wednesday he will not follow the lead of governors in Texas and Mississippi who lifted statewide mask mandates this week, said science has proven masks work in slowing and stopping the spread.

“Our path back is by each of us getting vaccinated when we can, and by each of us wearing masks in public. While no one will be forced to take the vaccine, the more of us who are vaccinated, the more complete our victory, and the more confidently we can put this behind us,” DeWine said.

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