COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Gov. Mike DeWine sounded the alarm Monday over disturbing numbers on COVID-19 and vaccines in Ohio as the start of a new school year draws near.

During a news conference at the Statehouse, DeWine shared that over 99% of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations in the state in 2021 have been from unvaccinated people. He spoke hours after Ohio’s chief medical officer recommended that unvaccinated students and staff members wear masks in schools.

DeWine shared these statisitcs:

  • Deaths: 6,846 total, 6,812 unvaccinated, 34 vaccinated
  • Hospitalizations: 17,129 total, 16,924 unvaccinated, 205 vaccinated

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff of the Department of Health noted that his recommendations would not be mandates, and DeWine reiterated that, saying he no longer has the authority to mandate mask use in schools.

“Let me be quite candid. I do not have the ability today to mandate that,” DeWine said. “There is not the appetite in this state today for that kind of a mandate. We did it last year with schools. It worked very, very well. There is not the appetite in the state to do that. I do not effectively have the ability to do that.”

Instead, he emphasized the success of masking in schools last year, when he said there was negligible spread of COVID-19.

“What we don’t have is any experience of the COVID going through the state and kids in school not masking,” he said. “By and large last winter, we had kids who were masked. What we saw when we went in and tested was very little spread in the classroom.”

In the spring, the General Assembly passed legislation over DeWine’s veto limiting the scope of statewide health orders, effectively leaving it to school boards to set their own policies on mask use. Last week, Columbus City Schools announced that it would require masks for everyone, even those who have been vaccinated.

Although DeWine said he could not issue standing health orders, he would continue to advocate for actions that limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We will need to let this decision be made by the parents and this decision be made by the schools,” DeWine said. “As governor of this state, I have the obligation to share the best data we have.”