How close is Ohio to lifting its health orders? Here’s what the numbers say

According to Gov. DeWine, the magic number is 50. The question is, where are we now?

Understanding COVID-19 case rates per 100,000 residents

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Ohio has some work to do before its health orders go away.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s benchmark for when the orders will be lifted is measured in the state’s two-week incident rate.

According to the governor, the health orders will be lifted when Ohio gets down to 50 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks.

How close is Ohio to getting there? According to current trends, not very. But that could change.

What is an incident rate?

Incident rates have been around for a while. They’re useful because they offer a standardized, per capita way to measure new cases across cities and states of various sizes.

The rates are one of seven criteria used to determine a county’s color — or severity of spread — in the Ohio Department of Health’s Public Advisory Map (which recently got buried in the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.)

It’s important to differentiate between rates that represent totals across a timeframe — two weeks in Ohio’s case — and rates that measure daily average cases, which Kentucky uses in its maps.

For example, in Kentucky’s system, Kenton County has an incident rate of 17.5, representing average daily cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days. Meanwhile, in Ohio’s system, Hamilton County has an incident rate of 207.71, representing all cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days. They say the same thing, just in different ways. It’s a quirk. Moving on.

What is Ohio’s current rate?

Ohio’s incident rate over the last two weeks is 179.6.

That rate reflects cases with an onset date Feb. 17-March 2 — onset date differs from reporting date in the state’s dashboard — and does not include those incarcerated.

The rate is the same used at a county level in the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, which has not included incarcerated individuals since the beginning, as outbreaks in confined congregate settings aren’t a good indicator of community spread, according to an ODH spokesperson.

How many cases would Ohio need to average to get to 50?

In order to drop the statewide health orders, Ohio would need to average around 410 cases per day over a two-week span.

When’s the last time that happened?

According to data from the COVID Tracking Project, the last time Ohio had one day under 410 cases was June 14 of last year.

The last time it had a two-week incident rate of 50 was around July, according to the Enquirer.

But cases have come down, haven’t they?

Yes, and quickly. But that’s what happens when you base jump from the top of Mount Everest... you’ve got a lot of room to fall.

The winter case spike was huge. On Jan. 2 alone, Ohio reported 14,293 cases. It averaged more than 7,000 daily cases the following two weeks. The incident rate over those weeks of 913.6 (using case reports rather than onset date) is astonishing.

Getting from there to here is impressive. Getting from here to where DeWine says we should be could take some time.

How long? The CDC provides incident rate projections four weeks out. The latest projection has Ohio’s incident rate at 152.9 the first week of April. If that trend continues, the health orders will be in place until the middle of May.

Will vaccinations help?

Yes. Exactly how much, and how quickly, is tough to say.

The vaccines have been shown to effectively eliminate severe cases of COVID-19. That is, a vaccinated person is more likely never to develop symptoms than a non-vaccinated person, and a vaccinated person is extremely unlikely to require hospitalization, let alone die, from the virus.

But the jury is still out on whether a vaccinated person carries the virus around, even if they don’t show symptoms... and a positive test is a positive test in the state’s reporting system.

Similarly, the research remains unclear about whether the vaccines suppress transmission. Early findings suggest they do, and that’ll show up in fewer cases, but we just don’t know for sure yet.

Then there’s the issue of virus variants, which could lead to a fourth case surge, though CDC projections say it’s more likely the case decline simply levels off until late April.

The good news? Even if the variants do reduce the efficacy of the vaccines, the vaccines were already miraculously effective to begin with. Take them down a peg to just “very” effective, and we’re still winning the ballgame.

Case in point: Ohio hospitalizations are falling faster than case counts.

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