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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.

Hamilton Co. COVID Cases At Lowest Levels In Months As Commission Holds Final Health Briefing

The Hamilton County Commission held its final COVID-19 briefing Wednesday as the county averages its lowest case numbers since last September.

During the peak of COVID-19 activity last winter, the county was averaging roughly 716 cases per day. Now, roughly 41 cases are being reported a day. The county has also dropped to the "orange" level on the state's Public Health Advisory System.

County Commissioner Denise Driehaus recounted the mental toll the pandemic has taken on her and her colleagues, pausing briefly as tears began to well up.

"While it's hard to find a silver lining from this experience, I do believe that there's some lessons learned, and even some areas where our collective efforts have made us stronger," Driehaus said.

Driehaus also said that just because the briefings are stopping, they're "not stopping the work." She says commission meetings will look different going forward. Meetings will not be back right away to pre-pandemic capacity levels and CDC masking guidelines for indoor gatherings will be followed. Hand sanitizer and PPE will be readily available. All Hamilton County employees will be returning to work in-person by June 1.

Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman assumed his role during the pandemic and said he's thankful for the team he's had around him during this time. However, he noted the community still needs to stay cautious to prevent the spread of COVID-19 going forward.

"Cautious will look different for different people," Kesterman said. "I think we should celebrate that vaccines work and if you've been vaccinated, I think you should be able to celebrate that you have new freedoms and safety that you never had [a] chance to have before. That said, for folks who have not been vaccinated, some may choose to get the vaccine and some may not, and I think there's still a significant risk if you are choosing not to get vaccinated."

At least 80,780 of the county's roughly 800,000 residents have contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic, resulting in 3,158 hospitalizations and 1,228 deaths. More than 46% of the county has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, slightly higher than the state's average of 44.5%. Roughly 80% of county residents ages 65 and older have received at least one dose.

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. The first winner will be announced at 7:30 p.m.

The region's "Get Out The Vax" campaign may not reach its goal of vaccinating 80% of the region by July 4. 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.

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