CLEVELAND, Ohio – Two years ago on Wednesday – March 9, 2020 – the Ohio Department of Health confirmed the state’s first three cases of COVID-19.
We thought staying home, closing schools, wearing masks and wiping down every surface in sight would defeat COVID-19. We expected normality in a few weeks.
Boy, were we wrong.
We have now seen the death toll in Ohio among the first 36,000 COVID-19. We’ve experienced birthday parades in cars, favorite restaurants that have closed, and virtual funerals.
Comfort set in when vaccines became widely available and cases dropped to minute levels last summer. Then the delta and omicron COVID-19 variants triggered further outbreaks.
We are now down from an omicron surge, and with cautious hope cases will continue to decline. Mask requirements have been relaxed.
Where have we been, and where are we going? We now know that COVID-19 will probably never go away, but we remain hopeful that with the help of vaccines and treatments, it will become manageable.
Here’s a look back at March 2020 and March 2021, as well as today and where we’re likely headed.
March 2020: ‘Disturbing and disrupting our lives’
The state began recording daily COVID-19 statistics with those first three confirmed cases on March 9. As of March 31, 266 have been recorded that day alone and 55 Ohioans have died.
Today, those numbers seem tiny.
When the schools closed initially, it was for three weeks. We were appalled by the number of cases in the hundreds, and we turned DeWine’s daily press conferences into an excuse to pour a glass of wine while listening to the governor and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton explains how the coronavirus spread. The health director has become a household name.
“This disease is going to be very disruptive and disruptive to our lives for some time to come,” DeWine said when the first confirmed cases were announced in Ohio. “This is no ordinary time. It is important for us to take aggressive action to protect the people of Ohio. And the actions we take now will in fact save lives.
The first COVID-19 death in Cuyahoga County was recorded in mid-March, and as of March 24, Ohioans were under a stay-at-home order. The order temporarily closed some non-essential businesses, but allowed some government services, grocery stores, gas stations, take-out restaurants and pharmacies to remain open.
Acton, trying to allay fears during an initial briefing, told Ohioans: “Don’t be scared if you can’t get tested. I want you to treat this like a really bad flu. And I want you to listen to our governor, and we’ll come to you every day, and talk to you about this. awaits us, and we will do it together.
Acton predicted that at the height of the pandemic, Ohio would see 6,000 to 8,000 new infections per day. The actual numbers far exceeded this mark.
The worsening health emergency has extended well beyond work and school. The Cleveland International Film Festival and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, two long-standing fixtures on Cleveland-area calendars, have been canceled. The presidential primary has been postponed.
Soon more cancellations and closures were announced, spreading a sense of uncertainty.
“While our audience will miss it this year, there will be excitement because we will be in our new home (in 2021),” CIFF executive director Marcie Goodman said at the time. “The passion will always be there.”
In fact, CIFF also held the entire festival online in 2021. This year, CIFF will offer both in-person and online festivals.
March 2021: “Life full of hope can return to normal”
Fast forward to 2021, a year later.
At this time of the pandemic, we had lost Acton, who resigned in 2020, but we won COVID-19 vaccines.
On March 9 a year ago, we averaged nearly 1,500 cases a day in Ohio — well below winter highs — but the death toll had reached 17,662.
Cases were on a downward trend. We thought the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would get life back to normal.
We haven’t seen the omicron COVID-19 variant lurking around the corner.
Ohio rolled out COVID-19 vaccinations by age group, starting with healthcare workers and those in nursing homes in late 2020. In March, vaccinations became available to Ohioans aged 60 years and under.
March 17, a traditional day of celebration in Cleveland with the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, instead marked another significant day in 2021, the opening of the Wolstein Center mass vaccination site at State University. of Cleveland.
Some people, swayed by online misinformation and questions about vaccine safety, have chosen to wait to be vaccinated. Health officials have stressed that injections are safe and the best way to control the pandemic.
“I hope life can get back to normal,” said a local woman who was among the first vaccinated in Wolstein. “I can’t wait to be able to see friends and socialize. It’s been a lonely year.
By then, only 38,000 Ohioans had received an injection. Now that number exceeds 7.2 million, or about 66% of the population over the age of 5.
DeWine attempted to entice Ohioans to get vaccinated through a weekly Vax-a-Million lottery for Ohioans who had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine. The lottery ran from May 26 to June 23 and handed out weekly prizes of $1 million to adults and college scholarships to youth ages 12 to 17. Nearly 3.5 million adults and 155,000 children had registered by the time the lottery ended.
But opposition to security measures was also taking hold. It was in March 2021 that Ohio lawmakers passed a law limiting DeWine’s ability to enforce mask mandates and other health orders. DeWine vetoed it on March 24, but the legislature overruled the veto later that day, and it went into effect June 23, 2021.
Republicans passed the bill in response to public health orders that shuttered businesses and slowed the economy at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. They saw the bill as a check on executive power.
March 2022: “Omicron is not quite finished”
As the second anniversary of the March 9 pandemic approaches, Ohio appears beyond the worst of the omicron variant that caused a fall and winter spike.
We are filled with hope that we can fully participate in activities, and laugh and hug our loved ones, said Dr. Ben Kearney, clinical director at OhioGuidestone, a behavioral health agency.
“But behind the hope will be anxiety, memories of loss and grief,” Kearney said. “Our experience of hope and worry is not new to humanity, it is a constant. We experience it at every transition in life: marriage, new parenthood, career change, family move, and retirement. »
New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Ohio declined significantly in February and early March.
At the peak of the omicron outbreak in January, Ohio at times saw more than 20,000 new cases on some days. That number dropped to around 1,000 in early March.
But Ohio’s COVID-19 death toll, which stood at 37,018 on Friday, continues to climb.
Vaccines, once seen as a way out, has become politicized and divisive during the pandemic. Groups of friends and families struggled to weigh the need to protect vulnerable people from the right to make personal decisions. And will we need reminders every year?
There are glimpses of what the “new normal” might look like. The Cleveland St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Cleveland International Film Festival, which were canceled or virtual in 2020 and 2021, are back as in-person events this year.
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, warned last month against schools, organizations and businesses moving too quickly to abandon COVID-19 health measures, although many l have done.
“Let’s keep in mind, though, that while we’re steadily heading in the right direction, omicron isn’t done threatening us yet,” Vanderhoff said. “The fact is, COVID-19 is still a real presence in Ohio.”
Yet on February 25, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed federal guidelines on masks, advising that most people do not have to wear them indoors in public places in places where levels of COVID-19 are low or moderate.
President Joe Biden, during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, emphasized the tools now available to protect Americans. He plans to ask Congress for funds to ensure the country has a stockpile of COVID-19 tests, masks and therapeutics.
The virus, Biden said, “no longer needs to control our lives.”
We can turn our struggle into an opportunity by acknowledging all we have learned and gained, said Sheerli Ratner, clinical psychologist at the MetroHealth System.
“As we regain our footing and re-engage in the activities we missed during COVID-19 – such as in-person meetings, social events, travel and sports – consider how far we have come in our survival through a pandemic,” Ratner said. . “We are here in body, so let’s be here in mind and spirit too.”