Mar 29, 2023 - COVID

Ohio recorded fewer COVID-19 deaths than most of the country

Cumulative COVID-19 death rates, by state
Data: The Lancet; Map: Alice Feng/Axios

Ohio suffered among the lowest adjusted COVID-19 death rates in the country from 2020 to mid-2022, according to peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet.

Why it matters: More than three years since the beginning of the pandemic, ongoing research into state actions and outcomes is still helping to drive future crisis decision-making.

💔 Reality check: Ohio's decent standing on this death rate metric should be viewed "in the context of tragedy," Daniel Skinner, associate professor of health policy at Ohio University and host of the Prognosis Ohio podcast, tells Axios.

  • We've lost nearly 42,000 residents to the virus to date.

What they did: The Lancet's deep dive explored the social, political and economic factors that contributed to significant variations in COVID infection and death rates between states, Axios' Tina Reed writes.

The intrigue: The analysis found no association between the political affiliation of a state's governor and its death rates.

  • But states that issued more health mandates — especially those that kept them longer — experienced lower infection rates, while higher vaccine coverage had a strong association with lower death rates.

Flashback: Ohio was one of the first states to take aggressive early steps, canceling a major public event (The Arnold Sports Festival) and shutting down its K-12 schools.

  • Gov. Mike DeWine and former state health director Amy Acton both faced blistering attacks from Republican lawmakers who condemned the string of health mandates.
  • His idea to boost vaccine numbers through a public lottery for vaccinated Ohioans, later copied by other states, was also panned by critics.
  • Overriding the governor's veto, the legislature enacted Senate Bill 22 in 2021 to prohibit widespread stay-at-home orders and allow lawmakers to rescind public health orders.

Threat level: DeWine warned SB22 would curb the ability of state leaders to properly deal with public emergencies.

  • Just months later, the governor cited the new law in opting against reissuing a statewide mask mandate during a surge in cases.

What they're saying: Skinner says the state medical community wants to see a more thorough review of Ohio's pandemic response to determine what worked, what didn't and develop a plan for future health crises.

  • Although carrying out that plan may now be difficult in the wake of SB22, he acknowledged.
  • "We have fewer tools available to us."
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