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Doctors warn another COVID wave could hit Ohio in time for the holidays

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As was the case last year when a wave of COVID-19 swept through Ohio and interfered with holiday plans, doctors warn the same could happen again with the latest strain of the virus.

Doctors said during a press conference Thursday that strains of the omicron virus are taking hold in Europe and China. Those new strains are spreading and doctors here in Ohio said there could be another wave of COVID-19 this winter, just in time for the November and December holidays.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Ohio Department of Health director, said new variants of omicron, XBB, BQ.1.1, that are hitting other countries right now could make their way to Ohio.

"This could coincide with the holiday season and the opportunity for larger indoor gatherings whether it be for Halloween costume parties or Thanksgiving dinner or December holiday parties and get togethers," Vanderhoff warned.

Vanderhoff said the good news is the bivalent COVID-19 booster, that's now available, seems to be performing well in early tests at preventing the virus and also protecting against long COVID-19 symptoms.

Dr. Steven Gordon, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic department of infectious disease, agreed. He said early data shows the bivalent COVID-19 booster is performing well against new variants of the virus which are offsprings of earlier versions of omicron.

“The ancestral strain with the bivalent is providing some help, some what we would say broadband protection against these grandchildren variants of Omicron," Gordon said.

Vanderhoff said Ohioans should have a testing plan in place. He said tests are still available, free of charge, at Ohio's public libraries. He noted many insurers will pay for COVID-19 tests as well.

There are also testing sites where people who think they might have COVID-19 can go to get PCR tests, a test that is considered to be more comprehensive and reliable than the at-home antigen tests.

There have been 40,111 Ohioans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the pandemic began and Vanderhoff noted people are still dying because of the virus each day.

Additionally, he said thousands of Ohioans who have had COVID-19 have developed long-term conditions such as brain fog, shortness of breath, and a variety of other problems.

“Vaccination appears to offer protective benefits for you not only from severe illness now but also potentially debilitating symptoms later,” Vanderhoff said.

He urged Ohioans who haven't received initial vaccinations and the bivalent COVID-19 boosters to do so soon.

The Ohio Department of Health's vaccination dashboard shows 744,171 Ohioans are fully vaccinated and have the latest bivalent booster, 3,836,149 have received at least one booster and 1,212,293 Ohioans have received their second booster.

A total of 6,946,471 of Ohio's more than 11 million residents have completed their initial COVID-19 vaccines.

It's not just COVID-19 that could pose a problem for Ohioans.

Vanderhoff urged Ohioans to get flu shots because he expects flu to also be worse this year.

Children's hospitals statewide say they are seeing increases in cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Vanderhoff said it's important for anyone who feels ill to stay home to protect others. He said those who are at high risk of illness because of existing medical conditions or weakened immune systems should consider wearing a mask in tight public spaces.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.
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