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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

COVID-19 Surge Will Soon Move From Southern To Northern Ohio Region

photo of Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff
Ohio Department of Health
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, addresses the concerning number of hospitalizations in the state during a Sept. 9 press conference. As of Sept. 8, more than 3,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, he said.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are soaring due to the highly contagious delta variant, and the rise in severe cases is stressing the hospital systems, according to health officials.

Hospitals in the Cleveland area are filling up but still have the capacity for new patients, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

In Region 2, a region designated by ODH which includes Lorain, Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties, hospitals are just under 80 percent capacity, according to the data. It’s a much different story in the southern and central regions of the state, though, and Cleveland-area hospitals may soon follow suit, said ODH director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.

“The wave hit the southernmost portions of the state before it hit the northern portions of the state. However, we’re seeing growing volumes now in the north,” Vanderhoff said in a Thursday press conference.

Hospitals in the Columbus and Cincinnati areas have started delaying elective procedures, minimizing outside visitation, and are facing staffing shortages, said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, medical director of infectious diseases at OhioHealth in Columbus.

“We are very busy, and we are at very high capacity, especially when it comes to taking care of patients, and more importantly, not having enough staff to take care of patients,” Gastaldo said.

About 15 to 20 percent of COVID-19 admissions are people who are fully vaccinated, but patterns show they are over the age of 80 or immunocompromised, Gastaldo said.

Northeast Ohio hospital officials are also concerned about staffing shortages, and that concern is growing as patient counts are spiking, Vanderhoff added.

“I don’t think that this is a wave that is sparing any part of the state. I think it is simply a wave that is moving in time from the south to the north,” he said.

Gastaldo added that many southern Ohio counties have low vaccine uptake, which could explain why this region was hit harder by the delta variant.

Vanderhoff said hospitals across the state have enough beds, equipment and resources to handle the surge of patients; the issue, rather, is the lack of employees, which is why some hospitals have taken steps to suspend procedures and conserve staff.

Statewide, more than 3,000 Ohioans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, Vanderhoff said.

Hospitals are also filling up with patients who delayed care during the pandemic, Gastaldo added.

According to the Ohio Hospital Association, 1 in 7 patients in Ohio hospitals currently have COVID-19, and 1 in 4 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) have COVID. In rural areas, the numbers are starker: 1 in 3 hospital patients have COVID and half of individuals in the ICU have COVID, Vanderhoff said.

Cases have risen dramatically since the delta variant began circulating in the state mid-summer, according to ODH data. On Wednesday, the state reported more than 6,800 new cases, and the 21-day case average has risen to about 5,000 new cases per day, Vanderhoff said.

To compare, the state’s daily case rate is now 20 times what it was in early July, Vanderhoff added.

The best way to help contain the spread of the virus, Vanderhoff said, is for Ohioans to get vaccinated. The majority of people hospitalized are unvaccinated, Gastaldo and Vanderhoff added.

Vanderhoff also recommends people who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are showing symptoms get tested. Many libraries and health departments are giving out rapid tests that can be administered at home for free, he said.

In Northeast Ohio, the Summit County health department is temporarily out of at-home rapid tests due to high demand, according to a spokesperson.

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