MANSFIELD -- It's been approximately a year ago that the COVID-19 virus reached from China into Ohio, an infection that has raged through the state with 920,217 cases and 11,659 deaths.

However, numbers from the Ohio Department of Health on Sunday indicate perhaps the worst has passed.

Vaccines have increased, hospitalizations are declining and the percentage of residents testing positive continues to wane, evidence perhaps the second COVID-19 wave that began last fall has begun to subside.

Ohio reported 24,425 new cases last week, which is 22 percent less than the week prior when 31,470 new COVID-19 cases were recorded.

The initial confirmed COVID-19 case in Ohio was 11 months ago on March 9, the same day Gov. Mike DeWine issued a state of emergency. Records supported by further testing later showed undetected cases had existed in Ohio since early January.

The first confirmed Ohio death came March 19 when a Shelby High School graduate -- a 76-year-old Toledo attorney named Mark Wagoner Sr. -- succumbed to the virus. The first of the state's stay-at-home orders came on March 23 as Ohio and the world grappled with an infection no one had even seen before.

Fears of a state medical system being overwhelmed peaked in mid-December when 5,308 Ohio residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 1,318 patients in ICUs, according to the Ohio Hospital Association.

As of Sunday, there were 1,978 COVID-19 patients in hospitals around the state, the first time the number has dipped below 2,000 since Nov. 4. Hospitalizations have declined 21 percent in the last week, 47 percent in the last 21 days and 61 percent in the last two months.

DeWine said last week he will lift the current 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew if hospitalizations remain below 2,500, a decision he could announce Thursday. 

Needs for ICU beds have also declined. As of Sunday, there were 530 COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care, the lowest number since Nov. 5. That's down 20 percent in seven days, 42 percent in 21 days and 56 percent in the last 60 days.

Hospitalizations in the region that includes Richland and Ashland counties have shown similar declines. As of Sunday, there were 351 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in the region, down from a high of 1,051 on Dec. 19. Numbers are down 19 percent in the last seven days, 50 percent in the last 21 days and 65 percent in the last 60 days.

In the hospital region that includes Crawford and Knox Counties, there were 300 residents in the hospital with COVID-19, down from a high of 851 on Dec. 8. Numbers have dropped 16 percent in the last seven days, 49 percent in the last 21 days and 64 percent in the last two months.

The percentage of residents testing positive statewide for coronavirus has also declined to levels not seen since the end of October. As of Feb. 5, the 7-day moving average was at 7 percent, down from a recent peak of 16 percent on Dec. 7.

The number of Ohioans receiving the COVID-19 vaccines continues to rise since the effort began in mid-December. The ODH reported Sunday that 1,037,509 state residents have received the initial dose of the two-dose vaccines, roughly 9 percent of the population.

Senior citizens have fared worst against the virus and ODH reported Sunday that 513,491 of the initial doses (49 percent) have been given to residents 70 or older.

Initial vaccinations focused on nursing homes around the state where 47 percent of COVID-19 deaths (5,428) in Ohio have occurred. 

As of Feb. 3, there were just five reported active cases in Richland County among nursing home residents and zero in Knox County. ODH reported 21 cases among nursing home residents in Crawford County and eight in Ashland County.

In north central Ohio, 22,372 initial vaccine doses have been distributed, including Richland, Ashland, Knox and Crawford counties. Percentages range from 10 percent of Crawford County residents to 6 percent in Ashland County. Richland and Knox are both at 8 percent.

ODH reported Sunday that 305,038 residents have gotten both doses, or about 2.6 percent of the state's population.

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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?"