COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After discontinuing his weekly coronavirus briefings, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine returned Friday to the lectern to deliver a dire message of how the state has been split into “two Ohios,” the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, as it battles the surging delta variant.
“We’re at a new stage of the pandemic,” the Republican governor said during the briefing. “We truly have two Ohios: one group of people who are safe against this variant and another group of people who unfortunately are not.”
The new stage, as DeWine describes, is not a battle unique to Ohio. The state, which took control of the pandemic early on in March 2020, has seen cases and hospitalizations spike after weeks of record lows in May and June. The majority of the cases are of the highly contagious delta variant.
The overwhelming majority of the spike is also nearly exclusively among unvaccinated residents, DeWine said.
Since Jan. 1, more than 18,600 Ohioans have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Close to 98% of those cases were individuals who were not fully vaccinated, according to state data.
“Despite the fact that delta, indeed, is more contagious. It’s more dangerous. It makes people sicker quicker — vaccines are very protective against this virus,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health.
Nearly half of the eligible population in Ohio has received at least the first dose, but the state is nowhere near the 70%-80% vaccination rates seen in areas like New England and California. Even with some small increases following the state’s Vax-A-Million lottery incentive, DeWine and his administration are facing strong resistance to the vaccine, especially among younger residents.
Although the case numbers going back in the wrong direction, the recent surge in Ohio has also led to an increase in vaccinations, even in the counties with the lowest rates of inoculation.
“In the last several weeks, as Ohioans have seen the spread of the delta variant in their communities, more Ohioans are now getting vaccinated,” DeWine said. “We’ve seen an increase in vaccinations in 85 of our 88 counties in July.”
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.