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The COVID wave in Ohio is shifting southward

 The Cleveland Clinic
Tim Harrison
/
Ideastream Public Media
As Ohio National Guard members leave The Cleveland Clinic to help at hospitals in southern Ohio during the current COVID-19 surge, members of the Air Force arrive at the Clinic Wednesday. The Air Force group includes nurses, doctors and other medical professionals.

The Ohio Department of Health reports there’s some indication the COVID virus, which has overwhelmed Cleveland hospitals in recent weeks, is moving south in Ohio.

State Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff says hospitalizations have fallen as much as 24% in Cleveland this week. But he says other parts of the state are experiencing an increase in COVID hospitalizations.

“The Southwest region of Ohio reported a 14% increase and the western Ohio region a 13% increase in ICU admissions for patients with COVID-19 compared with last week,” Vanderhoff said.

It's Omicron, not the Delta variant, that is driving the surge

Vanderhoff says this surge has been driven by the Omicron variant of the virus. While it is highly contagious and far easier to spread, he says it has proven to be milder in vaccinated people. But he says more than 90% of those Ohioans who have been hospitalized have been unvaccinated. So, he explains it's important for all Ohioans to stay home if they have cold symptoms because it could be COVID. And though it might be mild for vaccinated Ohioans, it could be dangerous for unvaccinated Ohioans or those who are immunocompromised. Almost 60% of Ohioans 5 years old and older who are eligible for COVID vaccines are fully vaccinated at this point.

 Major General John Harris Jr, Adjuctant General of Ohio
Jo Ingles
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Major General John Harris Jr, Adjuctant General of Ohio

Resources are being shifted because of the surge

For weeks now, Ohio National Guard members have been working at the Cleveland Clinic, and federal Air Force professionals arrived Wednesday. The hospital has been hard hit by the Omicron surge during the holidays and the weeks following. Vanderhoff says federally deployed military professionals will continue to help in Cleveland and adds the feds will be sending some additional help to the Summa system in Akron in the coming days. And because the surge is moving south, Adjutant General Major Gen. John Harris Jr. says the Ohio National Guard will shift to Southern and Southwest Ohio to deal with the increasing hospitalizations there.

 Dr. Roberto Colon, Miami Valley Hospital
Jo Ingles
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Dr. Roberto Colon, Miami Valley Hospital

Dr. Roberto Colon with the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton says his facility is feeling the stress of the surge right now. He says the hospital has taken steps to increase capacity by putting off elective surgeries and making other changes. He says the health care workers there are very happy to have the Ohio National Guard members there, and their work has been very much appreciated by staff.

It's still tough to find rapid at-home tests

Vanderhoff says the state has received a fraction of the 1.2 million at-home tests it ordered for January. But he says the state expects to get 400,000 in the near future. Those will be given to K-12 schools and colleges. When they have enough, Vanderhoff says the tests will, once again, be supplied to libraries and health departments statewide that can hand them out free of charge to Ohioans. Libraries had been doing that from March 2021 until just a couple of weeks ago when the state shifted the priority for those tests to schools.

The rapid tests have been in short supply nationally in recent weeks. But the Biden administration announced each household in the country can order four free COVID tests at covidtests.gov. Those tests will be mailed through the U.S. Postal Service in the coming days.

In addition, people with private insurance can be reimbursed up to $12 a test from their private insurer if they purchase the tests at a pharmacy. And Vanderhoff says Ohioans can also go to one of the mass testing sites throughout the state to have a test administered. A complete list of those locations can be found here.

When will this surge end?

Vanderhoff says there are encouraging signs right now but notes there are still a lot of people in hospitals with COVID. He points out Ohio continues to record an average of more than 20,000 positive case numbers daily, a number he describes as very high.

He also explains there are other variants out there that could pose problems in the future.

He says vaccination continues to be the safest way to combat the virus. Even though the vaccines might not be enough to keep people from getting COVID, Vanderhoff explains they are doing a good job of keeping vaccinated people from getting seriously ill with the virus.

As far as case numbers, those have been off in recent days. The Ohio Department of Health reported a backlog in cases that have been added to the state's dashboard in recent days. He says the department has made changes to correct the problem.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment. Jo started her career in Louisville, Kentucky in the mid 80’s when she helped produce a televised presidential debate for ABC News, worked for a creative services company and served as a general assignment report for a commercial radio station. In 1989, she returned back to her native Ohio to work at the WOSU Stations in Columbus where she began a long resume in public radio.