COVID infections climbing, but state says hospitalizations and deaths are down from winter highs
COVID infection rates in Ohio have been going up for the last six weeks. State health officials say while the numbers are still comparatively good, the virus could be a threat later this year, so they’re stressing that the one-third of Ohioans who haven’t been vaccinated should get shots now.
In the first COVID briefing from the Ohio Department of Health since March, director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said COVID deaths have dropped 16% in the last three weeks, and hospitalizations are a fraction of what they were when the delta and omicron variants were both prevalent.
“The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ohio is currently 582. And that compares with a peak of over 6,700 on January 11," Vanderhoff said.
OhioHealth’s medical director of infectious diseases Dr. Joe Gastaldo said this dropoff indicates that COVID vaccines are still working.
“The vaccines are still performing extraordinarily well of keeping out of the hospital and preventing you from dying. So, yes - the vaccines are working well. They were never intended to stop all infection.”
Vanderhoff said all but one of 88 counties is green, with low transmission rate. Lawrence County is yellow, with a higher rate. Nationally, more than 81% of counties are green, according to the CDC's Community Level map. Vanderhoff said that map takes other things into account besides just infection rate, such as hospitalization numbers and the percentage of available beds occupied by COVID patients.
Vanderhoff said there’s no reliable positivity rate measure like in the first year of the pandemic, back when tests that were being conducted exclusively by medical professionals and health departments, "and those numbers were reliably and automatically recorded. So if anything I think we would assume that the numbers that we’re seeing across the state are higher than what’s being reported.”
Vanderhoff noted therapeutic treatments work, but some need to be used quickly after infection, so testing is important. But while tests are widely available to buy in stores, free kits aren’t back in local health departments and libraries.
Most people who are hospitalized with COVID are elderly or have serious underlying medical conditions impacting their immune systems. Vanderhoff noted there are therapeutic treatments available for those at risk, That group includes elderly people and those with chronic diseases, but also people who are not physically active.
Therapeutic treatments include two different monoclonal antibodies as well as antiviral medications. The most important of those is Paxlovid, which must be started w/in five days, so Vanderhoff said testing is important. The state has set up a section of its coronavirus website to educate and connect people about therapeutic treatments, which aren't cures.
The CDC has recommended people stay up to date on vaccinations, which for most includes a booster. But Gastaldo said for people over 50 and those with pre-existing conditions, a second booster should be considered.
“There is no identified risk of getting a second booster and if anything, that second booster may provide an additional layer of protection for those who are frail or with underlying health conditions.”
The state reports 38,451 people in Ohio have died of COVID since the start of the pandemic, with 2,103,097 confirmed cases. Numbers are updated weekly by the Ohio Department of Health, and hospitalizations are still updated daily by the Ohio Hospital Association.