COLUMBUS, Ohio – The state will continue to expand vaccine eligibility first and foremost by age, putting residents 60 and older next in line for vaccine, Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday.

After that, the state will drop the age cutoff to 55, then to 50, the governor said during his news conference. 

The exact timeline has not been finalized, but the governor said Ohio is poised to expand eligibility in a matter of weeks. “Whether that's three weeks, four weeks, I don't think we know at this point,” DeWine said.

State officials will know it's time to expand eligibility when nearly all of the currently eligible seniors have had the chance to be vaccinated, he said.

“We're anxious to move it, but we're not going to move it as long as we've got 65-year-olds out there that are having a difficult time scheduling that vaccine,” DeWine said.

The state may also include some essential workers when it expands the eligible age group, but DeWine stressed that older residents will remain the state’s priority. 

"We are also looking at small groups that because of special exposure we may add in there once we go below 65," he said. 

It remains up in the air whether the next eligibility expansion will include anyone under the age of 50, DeWine said.

When a reporter began pressing for details on the “small groups” of essential workers the governor had mentioned, DeWine cautioned against reading too much into his comment.

“Hold on, I said there might be [essential workers],” DeWine said. “We're still trying to evaluate it.”

How long it takes to expand vaccine eligibility will depend on vaccine supply, which is hard to predict right now with Johnson & Johnson potentially getting authorization this weekend.

It will also depend on how many Ohioans want the vaccine. On Monday, the state’s dashboard showed 59.6% of seniors 80 and older have been vaccinated, a figure that has inched up a bit since Feb. 10 when 56% had been vaccinated. The governor said he believes the state can get it up even higher.

“We don't know, frankly, how high we'll be able to get with each age group, but we know that we certainly still have demand within those age groups,” he said.

Ohio has vaccinated 49.9% of seniors 75 to 79, 37.3% of seniors 70 to 74, and 23.43% of seniors 65 to 69.

The governor said he is feeling “optimistic about the future,” mentioning increased Pfizer production, which he is expecting soon.

The state's COVID-19 numbers continue to decline rapidly as vaccines are administered. Ohio's seven-day case average dropped 2,016 on Monday, while the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped to 1,374. When Ohio began vaccinating in mid-December, the state was reporting 10,000 daily cases and 5,300 people were hospitalized.

As the state continues to reopen, officials will provide guidance as soon as next week about a timeline for reopening and what the spring and summer could look like, DeWine said.

The governor said he expects the mask mandate is unlikely to go away any time soon, and he said there will be a big asterisk around the state's reopening guidance because of unknowns due to the emergence of variants.