COLUMBUS -- Fully vaccinated Ohio residents will no longer have to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday.
The change in state health orders comes as officials continue to try to convince more Ohio residents to receive the available vaccines.
It also brings Ohio in line with federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines, which have not required fully vaccinated people to quarantine.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Ohio Department of Health reported 4.6 million Ohio residents, about 39 percent of the population, have have had at least one dose of the vaccine. ODH also reported almost 3.6 million, about 31 percent, are fully vaccinated.
Ohio has lagged behind the vaccination rate of some sections of the country. More than half of Americans have started the vaccine process and about one third have been full vaccinated.
"The vaccine is our ticket to do all kinds of things," DeWine said, admitting the vaccination process has slowed. "Nothing about this process has been easy. No one should think (the vaccination) effort was going to be easy, either."
DeWine was asked if he would consider a financial incentive to motivate residents to get vaccinated. West Virginia, for example, is offering a $100 savings bond to everyone between the ages of 16 and 35 who gets vaccinated, an age group seemingly the most reluctant to get the shots.
"I ask myself and my team team every day -- what else can we do? I think everybody is motivated in a different way. There is no magic bullet (to motivate people)," the governor said, adding he has heard some businesses have offered bonuses to employees who become vaccinated.
The governor said the state is well positioned for the vaccination effort with almost 2,000 sites offering free injections.
In Richland County, 36,051 residents, about 30 percent, have gotten at least one dose and 29,957, about 25 percent, are fully vaccinated.
The change regarding quarantines announced by DeWine could make a difference for high school students who participate in extracurricular activities, including sports.
"By changing our health order, students 16 and 17 years old who are vaccinated will be able to participate in sports and other activities, even when they have been exposed to someone with COVID," DeWine said.
The governor said the change also applies to all adults, except those who are in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or other congregate care settings outlined in the order.
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities should continue to quarantine following CDC guidance, the governor said.
Statewide and regional hospitalization rates, which began rising in March after falling to start the year, have stabilized or even decreased, according to the Ohio Hospital Association.
In Ohio on Tuesday, there were 1,237 residents hospitalized with COVID-19, down 1 percent in the last seven days, up 3 percent in the last 21 days and up 2 percent in the last 60 days.
In the region that includes Richland County, there were 197 hospitalized on Tuesday, down 8 percent in the last week, down 6 percent in the last 21 days and down 11 percent in the last 60 days.
The statewide percentage of positive COVID-19 tests has remained steady at about 3.5 percent over the last seven days.
On Monday, the state announced county-by-county positivity rates for the first time and Richland County was at 4.6 percent over the last 14 days. Those rates were 2.1 percent in Knox County, 2.2 percent in Ashland County and 6.6 percent in Crawford County.
DeWine's announcement Monday came the same day the CDC said outdoor activities are safe without masks — regardless of whether a person is vaccinated — as long as people are either alone or with immediate family members.
The CDC also said fully vaccinated people can gather safely outdoors without masks in small groups.
"Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do," said CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. "Today, I'm going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated."