Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (File photo)

COLUMBUS -- Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday he may ease the statewide COVID-19 curfew if hospitalizations linked to the virus continue to decline.

The announcement could come as soon as Thursday, according to the governor.

Ohio has been under a statewide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. since Nov. 19, a move that has dramatically impacted the state's bar and restaurant industry.

It was originally set to last 21 days, but DeWine has since extended it. His announcement on Tuesday was the first indication he may move to ease the restriction. 

"If Ohio has seven straight days of hospitalizations below 3,500, we will go to an 11 p.m. curfew for at least two weeks. So far, we have had six straight days below this number," he said during his bi-weekly press conference.

According to the Ohio Hospital Association website, overall hospitalizations, as well as ICU usage, tied to COVID-19 have been declining since mid-December.

According to the OHA, there were 2,964 Ohio residents hospitalized on Tuesday due to COVID-19, down from 5,308 at its peak on Dec. 15. The OHA reported the number has declined 17 percent in the last seven days, 32 percent in the last 21 days and 37 percent in the last 60 days.

The number of residents in ICUs with COVID-19 has followed a similar trend with 741 as of Tuesday -- down 16 percent in the last week, 28 percent in the last 21 days and 34 percent in the last two months.

DeWine said if hospitalizations drop below 3,000 for seven consecutive days, he plans plan to move to a midnight curfew for at least two weeks. If the number falls below 2,500 for seven consecutive days, "We believe that we will be able to drop the curfew," he said.

"Keep in mind that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator -- this means that if these numbers go back up, we would likely need to act quickly to reinstitute the appropriate safety measures," DeWine said.

The governor also cautioned residents about the "extremely unpredictable" coronavirus.

"We have a new 'midwest variant' of the virus, and we are concerned that it could become the dominant strain in Ohio - this variant is much more contagious," DeWine said.

"We must keep practicing safety protocols. Our case numbers are improving because of what you are doing -- and what you're not doing. More people are wearing masks. Please continue wearing masks," he said.

According to the Ohio Dept. of Health website, the percentage of Ohioans testing positive for COVID-19 has also continued to decline. It was down to 9 percent on a seven-day average as of Jan. 24, down from 18.5 percent on Dec. 7.

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