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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Area 'Get Out The Vax' Campaign May Not Reach Goal By July 4

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The Health Collaborative's "Get Out The Vax" campaign aims to vaccinate 80% of the population of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky by July 4. Since launching last month, the vaccination rate has jumped 17% in the region. But Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman says it may take more time to reach that 80% goal than hoped.

"Over time, I think we are actually going to reach 80%, but it might take a few more months beyond July 4," Kesterman said during last week's county COVID briefing.

The effort has provided free rides to vaccine sites and created a mass vaccination site at Paul Brown Stadium last month. Roughly 52% of the Greater Cincinnati population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as health guidelines are near being lifted in both states.

Nationwide, urban areas have had higher vaccination rates than rural areas. Kate Schroder is the regional vaccine coordinator with The Health Collaborative. She says that same trend is being seen locally and clinicians, primary care doctors, and nurse practitioners will play a role in vaccinating rural regions going forward.

"The way to work and make a difference in reaching some of those folks is often through their health care provider who they trust, who is an expert on these health care decisions and who they've had a relationship with over many, many years," Schroder said.

Schroeder said vaccine rates leveled off temporarily but started rising again as 12- through 15-year-olds became eligible for vaccines. She says the region must stay vigilant toward reaching the goal, even as things begin reopening, to guarantee herd immunity.

"Everyone here has suffered through this pandemic and this is our way out of it," Schroder said. "It is an ambitious goal, but it's doable and we'll keep working until we get there."

Ohio will lift most of its health orders, including the mask mandate, June 2. The state also launched the Vax-A-Million lottery which led to an increase in the state's vaccine rate.

Kentucky will end remaining COVID-19 restrictions June 11. The mask mandate will end and capacity limits at all venues will return to 100%.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.