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Health & Science

COVID-19 Cases Rising in Northeast Ohio Because of Delta Variant

drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic
Cuyahoga County Board of Health
The Cuyahoga County Board of Health began holding drive-thru vaccination clinics in December 2020, and more than 85 percent of seniors are fully vaccinated. Still, health officials are growing concerned as the more contagious delta variant is driving an increase in COVID-19 cases in the region.

Updated: 3:19 p.m., Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Ohio saw its highest daily COVID-19 case increase since May Tuesday with 744 new cases reported, according to state data. 

COVID-19 cases are also increasing in Cuyahoga County, mirroring what is happening across the state, as the result of the more contagious delta variant. 

In Cuyahoga County, the health department is seeing about 30 new COVID cases reported per day, compared with daily case counts in the high teens a few weeks ago, said Health Commissioner Terry Allan. 

The uptick is being attributed to the increasing spread of the delta variant, which is more contagious than the original strain of the coronavirus, he said. 

“We’re certainly seeing increases, but it’s been low, but increasing rates of the variant rising across the state,” Allan said. “For me, it’s just a matter of time … before we will see higher rates continue.” 

Eventually, delta will be the predominant strain in the state, he added. 

Although cases are increasing in the county, COVID-related hospitalizations are currently low, and health officials are also seeing fewer fatalities, likely because more than 85 percent of the county’s 65 and over population is vaccinated, Allan said. 

“What I’m heartened by is that a lot of our seniors are protected, who are most at risk. That’s good. But the concern is that as infectious as this delta variant is, we are going to be guardedly watching to see what happens,” Allan said. 

At Cleveland Clinic, there were more than 120 positive COVID cases last week, more than double the number reported two weeks ago, according to hospital spokeswoman Andrea Pacetti. 

Hospitalizations are currently down, she added, with 30 patients hospitalized across the Cleveland Clinic’s Ohio locations.  

University Hospitals is seeing a similar trend, according to Dr. Robyn Strosaker, chief officer at UH Cleveland Medical Center. 

“Our COVID inpatient and ICU census remains low across the system,” she said via email. “We are concerned about the increasing rates of delta variant cases in Ohio in combination with a large proportion of our community who remains unvaccinated.” 

Both Allan and Pacetti added that hospitalization numbers often lag several weeks after positive cases, so numbers may continue to rise in the coming weeks. 

“I am concerned that we’ll start to see more cases, but it is our sincere hope … it won’t be anywhere near as bad as it was before,” Allan said. 

Despite the increase, health officials are not considering any new pandemic-related health orders, including mask mandates, Allan said. They may issue recommendations for residents if conditions worsen, but uniform statewide guidance is more effective than county-specific orders, he said. 

“It creates confusion. If we can avoid that, we’d like to. We’d like to do things in a uniform fashion,” Allan said. 

Health officials will soon release COVID safety guidance for K-12 schools, including whether students should wear masks even if they are vaccinated. There are multiple factors they will consider in their guidance, Allan said, including recommendations from ODH, as well as national organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which has advised students to wear masks despite vaccination status. 

“I think [the AAP are] also considering the practicality of the matter of a school setting. What’s the practical way to make determinations on who’s vaccinated and who isn’t? And much of it has been on an honor system,” Allan said. 

Ohio officials will also have to consider the new law passed by the Ohio Legislature recently, which mandates vaccinated and unvaccinated children should be treated the same, he added. 

Some local school districts have already put forth guidance for the school year. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District will require masks for all students and staff for the first five weeks of school, even for those who are fully vaccinated, while Parma City Schools will not require masks for anyone. 

Tuesday’s spike in cases is the highest case count reported in Ohio this month. On Monday, Ohio reported 660 new cases, twice the 21-day average of 330. State health officials noted this high number was partially a result of a technical issue that prevented a small number of cases from being counted over past weeks. The 744 cases reported Tuesday are "due to a true increase" in cases, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

Still, cases had been on a steady decline in June, but the daily case totals jumped over 400 per day several times in the past week, according to ODH data. 

Statewide, 348 patients are hospitalized with COVID-related conditions, the largest number in at least two weeks, according to ODH.
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