The number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is on the rise in Ohio as vaccination rates lag behind other states — a dangerous combination with cold weather and approaching holidays, experts say.
According to the Department of Health, 12% of tests came back positive in the most recent documented week, compared to a 7-day average of 9.5% earlier this month. The state also reported 6,382 new cases on Wednesday, the highest one-day total since early October.
In Franklin County, cases of COVID-19 are up 37% in the past week, said Columbus Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts.
“This is not how we wanted to enter the Thanksgiving and December holidays,” Roberts said.
Health officials say Ohio is in better shape than it was a few months ago when cases and hospitalizations rose due to the highly contagious delta strain. Still, hospital leaders have seen an increase in COVID-19 patients this month, and they worry that the number will remain stable as people begin to gather indoors for the winter and holiday.
For example, at Summa Health in Summit County, 105 people were hospitalized on Wednesday, after the number of patients dropped to 60 a few weeks ago. OhioHealth has seen about 200 to 240 patients nationwide since early November, and infectious disease specialist Dr. Joe Gastaldo doesn’t expect this to change anytime soon.
Statewide, more than 2,800 people have been hospitalized since Wednesday.
“This virus is not going away,” Gastaldo said. “We all have a date with this virus.”
Ohio Traces in Vaccinations
Meanwhile, approximately 52% of Ohio residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That puts the Buckeye State ahead of neighboring Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia but behind 34 other states, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“If you’re not vaccinated, there’s a good chance you’ll get infected,” says Dr. Thomas File, chairman of Summa Health’s infectious disease division. “That will be a problem. That also means that if you are infected, there is a high chance that you can also pass it on to others.”
Health officials hope the availability of vaccines for young children will increase vaccination rates, and they continue to educate people who have seen misinformation on social media. Gastaldo said the vaccine requirements have also helped more people get vaccinated.
However, they recognize that some people are unpersuasive.
“There are people who are totally anti-vaxxers and you won’t be able to convince them,” File said.
With Thanksgiving next week and other winter holidays just around the corner, experts are encouraging people to get vaccinated if they haven’t already and to take advantage of at-home testing before gathering with family and friends. Flu shots will also be crucial this year, they say, pointing to an outbreak at the University of Michigan being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I know people are tired of masks,” Roberts said, “but wearing a mask is much easier and much more manageable than being on a ventilator if you got COVID-19.”
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and 18 other affiliate news organizations throughout Ohio.