OHIO — Beginning Thursday, March 11, all Ohio residents aged 50 and over are eligible to receive any of three available COVID-19 vaccinations. Citing an increase in distribution of the vaccine, Governor Mike DeWine made the announcement Monday during a scheduled news briefing.

The Ohio Department of Health has prioritized age in disseminating the vaccine.

“Age is by far the biggest indicator,” DeWine said on Monday. “It’s so important that we don’t get sidetracked.”

Increasing eligibility to those aged 50 to 59, a population which comprises roughly 38% of the state’s population — or nearly 4.4 million individuals — creates an equally significant opportunity to further control the spread of a virus linked to the deaths of over half a million Americans, including, to date, 17,502 Ohioans.

Although ahead of the curve in terms of percentage of population vaccinated, prior to this week, Putnam County has lagged behind the state when it comes to age groups approved for vaccination. In an interview on Tuesday, Health Commissioner Kim Rieman said this is no longer the case. Beginning with next Wednesday’s vaccination clinic, volunteers and health department personnel will schedule appointments in keeping with the state’s guidelines.

“We will be accepting anybody 50 and over, beginning next week,” Rieman said. “We’re very much in favor of it going down to 50, so that way more people can get vaccinated.

With the age groups falling, Rieman reports the health department is adjusting its approach to accommodate this new dynamic.

“We are trying to now move into some evening, some weekend hours,” she said. “As we’re going down in age, we’re getting people who are working. We felt it was important to be able to get times where they don’t have to take off of work.”

Rieman further reported, in addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — both two-dose vaccines — the county is in receipt of the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This newest vaccine will be offered to scheduled participants at this week’s Wednesday clinic at the Ottawa K of C. Though available at this booked clinic, Rieman advised such may not always be the case.

“The difficult thing is we don’t know how much we’re going to get from week to week,” Rieman said, referring to all three vaccines currently available. “We usually find out on Tuesdays or Wednesdays how much we’re going to get for the following week.”

Even so, efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus — through practices either recommended or ordered by the State, and through vaccinations — are having an effect.

Listed at Level Red since September of last year, indicators here are falling. DeWine on Monday announced the county’s rate of infection at 67.9 for every 100,000 residents, well below the threshold for Red status, set at 100 per 100,000. On Tuesday, Rieman said Putnam County could see a reduction to Level Orange should those numbers hold through Thursday.

“Of course, that really doesn’t change things a whole lot,” Rieman said. “I think when it will really change is when the whole state is below that 50 per 100,000, which I think will take a little bit of time. Everybody wants to know what the endgame is, and I think he put that out there to answer some of those questions.”

Rieman further remarked the reduction in the caution level, should it come, isn’t the equivalent of an All Clear.

“If the status does drop, we still need to follow the guidelines put out by the State,” she said. “This is a time for us to gain ground, get individuals vaccinated, and still decrease that spread. If we decrease the spread and get more people vaccinated, we also help reduce the potential for mutation. We encourage everyone to continue to follow those guidelines, because they are there to protect us and keep the numbers down. That way we can get back to something that looks a little more like normal into the summer and beyond.”