COVID-19: One Year Later

One year after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ohio, we’re looking back on the ways it has changed the state.
Things are different now, but this is still home. In this video essay from April 2020, 13abc photojournalist Todd Gaertner chronicled his view of COVID-19.
Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 2:42 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Earlier that week, Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency in the state of Ohio, providing his office and the Ohio Department of Health the leeway to make some tough -- and sometimes unpopular -- decisions down the line.

The state of emergency was not his first action regarding the pandemic, however. Earlier in March, the governor had surprised many when he ordered the cancelation of The Arnold Fitness Expo, an annual gathering in Columbus which also serves as the largest multi-sport event in the world.

But The Arnold was just the first wave of what would become massive pandemic-related closures and restrictions in the coming weeks, none of which were limited to Ohio, and all of which would have lasting effects on communities and individuals. What was originally billed as an extended Spring Break for Ohio schools eventually became months of remote learning that resulted in issues surrounding childcare and concerns over whether students were being left behind state and federal learning standards.

After the state of emergency came closures at restaurants, limiting them to take-out and delivery services only, eventually expanded to allow outdoor dining. That was followed by closures in service industries like hair and nail salons, spa services, and tattoo shops, cutting off income streams for countless contract and self-employed workers. Unemployment claims in the state skyrocketed, leading to long wait times to process those claims as state agencies worked to ensure that anyone facing unemployment due to pandemic cuts would have access to those much-needed services.

Elective surgeries were canceled at Ohio hospitals early on as the state raced to shore up its supply of all-important Personal Protective Equipment for frontline healthcare workers. An Ohio company, Battelle, stepped in with a cutting-edge project that would allow them to sterilize masks for hospitals in the state, as well as provide devices to some of the hardest-hit states in the country, like New York and Washington.

On March 23, Gov. DeWine and then-Health Director Amy Acton issued a full Stay at Home order for the state of Ohio. All but essential businesses and services were closed and many Ohioans got used to a work-from-home lifestyle. Others saw long hours in less-than-ideal conditions as they worked to stock shelves at grocery stores and kept the lines of production up and running for essential cleaning products, PPE, and even toilet paper.

Here in Northwest Ohio, the first case of COVID-19 appeared in Lucas County on March 14, just before many of these closures would be put into place. The first cases in Wood and Hancock Counties would come the following week. The death of Mark Wagoner, Sr. on March 19 would become the first death due to the virus both locally and statewide, but it would not be the last. In the year that followed, nearly 1 million people would contract the virus in the state and nearly 18,000 Ohio residents would die as a result. More than 36,000 cases have been confirmed in Lucas County alone, along with nearly 800 deaths locally. Smaller, more rural counties would face their own challenges as cases skyrocketed during the height of the pandemic.

Now a year on, recovery has been slow and will likely continue well past the end of all mandates and closures. Sports are set to return this spring, even at limited capacity, and restaurants have been granted the ability to open up their dining rooms with masks and distancing in place. Cleaning supplies and toilet paper are back on store shelves and concerns over stockpiling seem to have dwindled in the intervening months.

Meanwhile, as three different COVID-19 vaccines make their way into the arms of Ohioans statewide, the governor has announced criteria for fully re-opening the state. Those criteria -- 50 cases per 100,000 residents -- will not be easy to meet and will require Ohio to reach the lowest number of cases in the state since June of 2020, but it does represent a goal and a light at the end of the tunnel.

Regardless of how quickly Ohio is able to administer those vaccines, and how fast it is able to hit those benchmarks, the state will likely continue to experience the pains of more than a year of pandemic restrictions. Businesses have closed throughout the state, students have spent more than a year out of school, and families face a sometimes tremendous financial burden. As we look back on COVID-19 one year later, we also look to the one ahead and as we have learned, a lot can happen in a year.

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