Gov. Mike DeWine used a televised address to the state to announce he’s lifting most state health orders, including the mask mandate, on June 2, but businesses can establish their own protocols for customers to follow.

DeWine said the timeline would allow any Ohioan who has not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine to get one before the mandates end.

“It is time to end the health orders,” DeWine said Wednesday. “It’s been a year. You’ve followed the protocols. You’ve done what we’ve asked. You’ve bravely fought this virus. And now, our cases are down, and we have a tested proven weapon with the vaccine that all Ohioans 12 and over can utilize.”

DeWine previously set a benchmark of 50 cases per 100,000 people to end all COVID restrictions but moved forward with eliminating the orders. The state’s current number is 124 cases per 100,000.

The mandates being lifted include masks, social distancing guidelines and capacity restrictions for indoor and outdoor events. Those remaining in effect apply to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which also have federal safety protocols in place. The state also will continue collecting data related to the pandemic.

The move drew applause from the Ohio Restaurant Association, which has chronicled the struggles of the state’s bars and restaurants for more than a year.

“Eliminating the 6-foot social distancing requirement will enable restaurant, bar and foodservice operators to return to great sales capacity for indoor dining, which is critical to our industry’s recovery,” ORA President and CEO John Barker said.

The group also called on Ohioans to move quickly to get vaccinated.

DeWine also offered incentives to increase the number of people getting vaccinated. One is a series of statewide drawings for those age 18 and younger who receive a vaccine that would award a four-year full scholarship to any of the state colleges and universities.

Also planned are five weekly $1 million prize drawings for those age 18 and older who have received at least one vaccine dose.

DeWine said the money for the drawings will come through unspent COVID-19 relief allocations to the Ohio Department of Health.

By J.D. Davidson

The Center Square