More vaccine on way to state

COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio can expect to see more doses of the coronavirus vaccine that it’s receiving from both Pfizer and Moderna in the coming weeks, Gov. Mike DeWine said.

Ohio currently receives about 73,000 doses a week from each company, with Moderna expected to increase that amount to about 105,000 next week, the governor said. Pfizer officials have told DeWine that its own weekly supply of 73,000 should grow by about 40 percent by the middle of February and double by the end of March.

That good news was tempered by a notice from the governor that he repeated again Thursday: Once Ohio begins providing vaccines next week to everyone 65 and older, the state will hold at that level for several weeks because that age group is so large, at about 2 million.

The governor has also made vaccinations for school employees this month a priority ahead of the goal of returning all schoolchildren to in-person learning by March 1. DeWine acknowledged criticism from some that healthy school employees in their 20s and 30s are receiving vaccines even as at-risk elderly people still need their shots.

DeWine cited a similar dilemma he’s faced over whether preschool teachers and other deserving groups should be made eligible.

“We all want everybody to get the vaccine. But that’s not the choice I’m faced with,” DeWine said. “The choice I’m faced with is, we have just a little bit: Now, who gets it?”

More than 935,000 people in Ohio, or about 8 percent of the state’s population, had received at least the first dose of the vaccine as of Thursday.

Also Thursday, the governor announced that Ohio banks and insurance companies have agreed to loan experts to the state human services agency to address problems with the jobless claims system. The salaries of the 16 individuals in the public-private partnership will be covered by their employers.

Over the past 45 weeks, the state’s Human Services agency has distributed more than $8 billion in unemployment compensation payments to more than 908,000 Ohioans. But the system has also been plagued by delays and complaints from people on the phone for hours, unable to get help.

The 3.6 million unemployment claims filed during the pandemic are more than filed during the recessions of 1991, 2002 and 2009 combined, said Kimberly Henderson, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

“We are committed to getting every eligible Ohioan the unemployment benefits they need,” Henderson said Thursday. “This new partnership will able the unemployment office to improve in the most critical areas that we are facing right now: answering every call, processing claims, and addressing fraud.”

In a statement provided before DeWine’s announcement, the union representing human services workers blamed private contractors hired during the pandemic for overpayments and fraudulent claims. That in turn led to more work for state employees, the union said.

“The slow-down of unemployment claims rests squarely on the shoulders of these private vendors,” said Chris Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

The state said Thursday that initial claims for unemployment dipped slightly last week. But continued jobless claims, continued a more accurate sign of the economy’s strength, ticked up.

A group of Ohio’s business leaders said Thursday it’s up to them to take a leading role in making sure the state’s residents get one of the coronavirus vaccines.

Members of the Ohio Business Roundtable, a nonprofit organization of chief executive officers from Ohio’s large companies, said Thursday that they will not only help workers get vaccinated but also assure them and the public that the shots are safe.

American Electric Power is looking at offering incentives and time off for its 17,000 employees who get vaccinated, said Nicholas Akins, the Columbus-based company’s president and CEO.

Mary Miller, co-owner of JANCOA Janitorial Services in Cincinnati, said employers need to build trust with their workers and help them understand that the vaccines are safe and effective.

“People are looking for answers, but they’re not looking in the right way,” she said.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 6,113 new cases per day on Jan. 20 to 4,063 new cases per day on Feb. 3.

Hospitalizations also stayed below 2,500 for the third day in a row. DeWine said if the trend continues, the state’s 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus could be lifted by next week.

Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.