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COLUMBUS -- A statewide 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew due to COVID-19 will be extended beyond Saturday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday afternoon.

DeWine said the curfew, which had been scheduled to end Saturday, must continue even though the state has experienced a recent declined in coronavirus numbers.

"Unfortunately, it's going to have to stay," DeWine said during a Thursday press briefing. "We have seen where the numbers are. There has been a downtick for a few days. But (virus spread) is still at a very high level.

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"We would love to get ride of it. The next step would maybe be to take it to 11 p.m., but we're not there yet," he said.

DeWine said he understands the frustrations of bar and restaurant owners who have dealt with the restrictions since Nov. 19. It was originally set to last 21 days and the governor then extended it another 21 days. He didn't say how long it would be extended beyond Saturday.

"I know this is difficult. I know this has hit (their) ability to operate," DeWine said, adding that "the nature" of the bar/restaurant business precludes customers from wearing masks while eating and drinking.

The governor said the curfew was a "compromise" to keep bars and restaurants open while other states were closing them.

COVID-19 numbers continued to improve in Richland County this week, according to the color-coded system used by the state to rate coronavirus spread in a community.

Richland County met only two of the Ohio Public Health Advisory System's seven indicators, according to the state health department website, which has been updated each Thursday afternoon since it was launched in July.

However, the county remained "red," or level three, due to continued high incidence of new COVID cases under CDC standards. No county can drop down to "orange," or level two, until it records less than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Richland County recorded 778 new cases in the last two weeks, or 642 per 100,000 residents. That's the lowest two-week total recorded in the last two months.

The county reported 642 cases in two weeks on Nov. 19. That's when a rise in cases began, topping out at 1,375 new cases in a two-week period on Dec. 10 when the county was rated "purple," or level four, in the OPHAS system.

The two indicators met in Richland County this week were new cases per capita and also new cases occurring in non-congregate settings. The county has seen declines in the increase of new cases, emergency room visits, outpatient visits, hospital admissions and regional ICU occupancy levels.

The state had 83 red counties, four orange counties and one purple county (Hamilton) this week.

COVID-19 hospitalizations around the region that includes Richland County also continue to decline, according to the Ohio Hospital Association website.

On Thursday, the OHA reported 631 coronavirus hospitalizations in the region, which is down from 1,058 on Dec. 14. Hospitalizations in the region have dropped 11 percent in the last seven days, 16 percent in the last 21 days and 21 percent in the last 60 days.

In terms of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, 500,176 Ohio residents have received the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Modern vaccine as of Thursday, about 4.3 percent of the state's population.

In Richland County, 4,287 residents have started the vaccine, or about 3.54 percent of the overall county population.

Even after residents complete the vaccination program, they should continue COVID-19 protective measures, according to Richland Public Health.

The currently authorized mRNA vaccines have been found to provide up to 95 percent immunity against COVID-19. "That means that there is still a small chance that you could get infected, so you need to continue to protect yourself while COVID-19 cases are high in your area," RPH said.

"Wearing a mask can limit your exposure to the virus, which should greatly lower your chances of becoming ill, even if you’ve been vaccinated," the health department said in an email Thursday.

Local health officials said there is also a chance those vaccinated can still infect others with COVID-19.

"It’s unclear whether or not people who receive the COVID-19 vaccine have the ability to spread the virus to others, even if they don’t become sick themselves. Researchers are now studying whether the vaccines prevent asymptomatic transmission of the virus," the agency said.

"If you’ve been vaccinated, it may be possible for enough of the virus to be present in your nose or mouth for you to unknowingly spread it to those around you, even if you don’t experience symptoms. Until researchers confirm that this doesn’t happen, wearing a mask helps you protect the people in your community who haven’t received the vaccine yet," RPH said.

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"