COLUMBUS -- Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday announced he was lifting all statewide COVID-19 health orders, effective June 2, including a mandatory mask mandate.
"It’s time to end the health orders. It’s been a year. You’ve followed the protocols. You’ve done what we’ve asked. You’ve bravely fought this virus," the governor said in a statewide broadcast.
"And now, our cases are down, and we have a tested and proven weapon in the vaccine that all Ohioans 12 and over can utilize," the governor said.
Many of the health orders, including limits on gatherings and implementation of social distancing, have been in place since March 2020. A statewide mask mandate was issued July 23, 2020.
"Each person now has access to a mighty weapon they can use to get 100 percent protection, and it is up to each Ohio citizen whether to use it or not. There comes a time when individual responsibility simply must take over," the governor said.
DeWine said all pandemic health orders will be lifted, except those for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, on June 2.
"This will give anyone not vaccinated time to get the one-shot J&J vaccine or the first dose of Pfizer/Moderna and be well on the way to immunity," DeWine said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, almost 42 percent of Ohio residents have started the vaccine process and more than 36 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Ohio Dept. of Health website.
Since the pandemic reached Ohio last spring, nearly 1.1 million state residents have been infected, more than 57,000 have been hospitalized and 19,441 have died.
Case numbers and hospitalizations have been declining, according to DeWine. As of Wednesday, according to the Ohio Hospital Association, 964 residents are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, down from a peak of 5,308 on Dec. 15.
"Now, lifting these orders does not mean the virus is gone. It does not mean we are all safe. Each Ohio citizen will make their own decisions about wearing a mask and social distancing -- and when, for them, that’s appropriate," he said.
"Ohio businesses and schools, as well, will make their own decisions about how to best keep their customers, employees, and students safe. Lifting these health orders will not prevent a business from imposing its own requirements," DeWine said.
The governor said he expects many stores and businesses may continue to require social distancing and masking, "based upon the experience of other states."
The vaccines, which were approved for usage in December, are the key to keeping momentum going, the governor said.
“The vaccine is here. Its stronger and better than medical experts ever imagined,” DeWine said. “Everyone can now control their own health. Everyone can now control their own destiny."
He announced two contests aimed at encouraging adults and children ages 12 to 17 get vaccinated.
The state will give away $1 million to five adults who have received the vaccine. He said the state will also award a four-year scholarship to a state university to five children age 12-17.
The "Ohio Vax-a-million" prizes will be selected and awarded for five consecutive Wednesdays, beginning May 26, DeWine said.
"The number of Ohioans who get the vaccine will determine what our future looks like, particularly this coming winter. Everyone has a stake in more Ohioans getting vaccinated," he said.
"This is our time -- and, vaccines are our opportunity," he said. "Let’s get it done. Let’s get everyone vaccinated. Because we are Ohioans. We are Buckeyes. We are strong. And we will finish the job!"
DeWine announced any pandemic health orders that would remain solely relate to either nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which will also to have federal safety protocols; and data collection related to the pandemic.