COLUMBUS — For the first time in a year, Ohioans have a goal. Exactly how to reach it and how long it might take remains in doubt, however.

After other states dropped COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates in the past week and calls for Ohio to follow grew louder, Gov. Mike DeWine has established a benchmark for removing the orders, constraints, curfews and masks the entire state has lived under since last March.

DeWine slowly has eased some business and attendance limits at sporting events and other gatherings over the past two weeks. During a statewide address Thursday night, he established a benchmark of 50 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period for removing all pandemic orders.

“This has been a very tough year for Ohioans, yet we did what Ohioans always do: we rallied together to protect the most vulnerable,” DeWine said. “The end of our fight is now in view, but we must continue pressing forward. We can set realistic goals that we are within reach for lifting health orders.”

Governors in Texas and Mississippi announced this week the end to statewide mask mandates and restrictions on businesses. At the same time, DeWine insisted he would not follow that lead.

Ohio’s COVID-19 infection rate has fallen from 400 cases per 100,000 people to around 150 cases per 100,000 residents. DeWine said he expects the number to continue falling, but he urged caution and continued adherence to masking and social distancing.

“This is due to the vaccine and your hard work,” DeWine said in his address. “The end of our fight is now in view. When the end is in view, there is a natural human tendency to let up. I can’t tell you exactly the day and the time when we can declare victory, but we will be able to declare victory.”

DeWine’s announcement came as the Ohio General Assembly continues to debate legislation that would limit the power of the governor and the Ohio Department of Health to establish orders.

At the end of last year, lawmakers passed a bill that created legislative oversight to orders, but the governor vetoed it. This session, the Senate passed a similar bill, which is in committee in the House.

By J.D. Davidson

The Center Square