Cincinnati Reds, Zoo, Kings Island Change Protocols after Ohio Gov. DeWine Lifts COVID-19 Restrictions

The CDC and DeWine say that people who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks. But only 37% of Ohioans are fully vaccinated.

click to enlarge Fully vaccinated from COVID-19? You can do this. - Photo: Kampus Production, Pexels
Photo: Kampus Production, Pexels
Fully vaccinated from COVID-19? You can do this.

Ohio is on its way to a new version of "normal" in the age of coronavirus, and Cincinnati institutions are eager to change course, as well.

The Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and Kings Island all announced over the weekend that they'd be amending their current practices to reflect Ohio's further easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that the majority of the Buckeye State's emergency health orders would be lifted beginning June 2. Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health have enacted a variety of measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19, which is easily transmissible among people through respiratory droplets when someone talks, sneezes, coughs or exhales with force.

Ohio's guidance over the past year has included reduced capacity for businesses and venues, a late-evening curfew, physical distancing recommendations, and a mandate to wear masks in public and particularly indoors, among other measures.

But on May 12, DeWine said that the state's last remaining health orders — including the one limiting capacity — would expire beginning June 2. DeWine added on May 14 that Ohioans who have been fully vaccinated would no longer have to wear a mask in public, except in healthcare settings, on public transit or in businesses that continue to require them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a “fully vaccinated” person is one who is two weeks past their second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen). 

In Ohio, 42% of residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. Only 37% are fully vaccinated, according to Ohio's COVID-19 dashboard.

The Reds announced Friday that Great American Ball Park would return to full capacity on June 2. The stadium had been operating at 40% capacity with fans grouped in "pods" since April, when DeWine last raised capacity limits for outdoor sporting events. 

"The Reds are grateful to Governor DeWine and all the state and local officials who collaborated to usher Ohio through this dangerous and difficult time," Phil Castellini, Reds president and chief operating officer, said in a press release. "Our goal has always been to host as many fans as possible in a safe manner and we are excited to once again have every seat available for more fans to cheer on our Reds."

In addition, the ball park will no longer require fans to wear masks, though officials still recommend them, according to the release.

Kings Island also will no longer require masks. The amusement park, which opened to the general public on Saturday, confirmed to WLWT-TV that visitors no longer will need to wear masks outdoors unless six feet of physical distancing isn't possible. Guests age 10 and up still must wear masks indoors when not eating or drinking.

The park's COVID-19 protocol guidance also says that there are no longer capacity limits for most rides, guests do not need to make reservations (except for Soak City, which opens May 29), and staff will no longer conduct temperature checks or health questionnaires for people entering the park.

After initially staying with its mask mandate, the Cincinnati Zoo is shifting its stance in a phased approach. Beginning May 17, visitors must only wear masks in indoor areas, congested areas and spaces where animals and humans interact. That will change again on June 2, when masks will be required only in close animal encounters.

In addition, zoo members will no longer need to make reservations beginning June 2. Non-members will continue to reserve visitation slots to limit capacity.

The changes are a departure from the zoo's stance in late April, when officials said that the zoo would continue to require guests age 6 and older to wear masks.

Updated guidance from the CDC notes that fully vaccinated people can largely forego wearing masks, the Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines protect against coronavirus variants, and those vaccinated have less risk of both catching and transmitting COVID-19. 

But health experts disagree on the CDC lifting the mask guidance so suddenly. Neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, M.D., criticized the CDC this weekend on CNN, saying that immuno-compromised people and those who can't yet get a COVID vaccine — such as kids age 11 and under — are at risk. 

And hundreds of epidemiologists — scientists who study viruses and their risk to humanity — recently told the New York Times that they'd expected the mask guidance to last longer. "In the informal survey, 80 percent said they thought Americans would need to wear masks in public indoor places for at least another year. Just 5 percent said people would no longer need to wear masks indoors by this summer," the Times reported.

Great American Ball Park, Kings Island and the Cincinnati Zoo did not indicate in their guidance if they would be asking guests for proof of full vaccination — the group of people the CDC says can forego masks.

Ohio is dropping the restrictions despite being far short of several benchmarks DeWine and other officials had long said should be met. 

DeWine earlier this year said that the rate of coronavirus cases would have to drop to 50 per 100,000 Ohioans before orders such as the requirement to wear masks indoors in public spaces would be dropped. On May 12, that rate stood at 123 per 100,000 and was dropping at a rate of only two to three percentage points a day, the governor said. As of May 16, 19,528 Ohioans have died from coronavirus.

COVID-19 vaccines are available to anyone age 16 and older in Ohio. People must be at least 16 years old for the Pfizer vaccine and 18 years old for the Moderna and J&J vaccines. Find information and vaccine locations on Ohio's coronavirus portal.

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