COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the first time in nearly two months, the Ohio Department of Health is giving a statewide COVID update right now during a press conference Wednesday morning as cases have increased during the last few weeks.
"It’s true that COVID-19 cases have increased nationally and in Ohio in recent weeks as a result of omicron and its subvariants -- but as always, it’s important to put the numbers into context," said Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff. "The virus is still out there circulating for sure, but Ohio’s case totals remain a fraction of what they were in January. We recognize that some of this is because fewer people are now getting tested or they’re not reporting their test results. That is certainly a factor. But even taking that into account, it’s clear from looking at the numbers that we’re still doing well when it comes to the volume of severe disease we’re dealing with.”
We streamed the entire press conference live, which you can watch in full below:
The state of Ohio, which is now only reporting new COVID cases once per week every Thursday afternoon, has seen a growing number of infections for six weeks in a row. For context, here’s the data stretching back to March 17 -- the first time Ohio's COVID data was reportedly on a weekly basis:
- May 12: 15,970 new cases
- May 5: 11,013 new cases
- April 28: 8,731 new cases
- April 21: 6,890 new cases
- April 14: 4,808 new cases
- April 7: 3,828 new cases
- March 31: 3,103 new cases
- March 24: 3,668 new cases
- March 17: 3,605 new cases
HOSPITALIZATIONS AND DEATHS
“The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ohio is currently 582, and that compares with a peak of over 6,700 on Jan. 11, according to the Ohio Hospital Association data," Dr. Vanderhoff said. "Based on my verbal communications with colleagues, it also appears that many of those admissions are for other reasons among patients who also happen to have COVID."
When it comes to deaths, Dr. Vanderhoff said the average weekly rates have declined by 16 percent during the past three weeks.
"What this tells us is that immunity – especially from vaccines – is making a difference," he continued. "About two-thirds of eligible Ohioans now have at least started their vaccine series, and more than 60 percent have had two doses.”
So who's being hospitalized?
“When you look at the cases that are requiring hospitalization for the treatment of COVID-19, they’re primarily people at the greatest risk for severe disease: Those of advanced age or who have serious underlying medical conditions impacting their immune systems," Dr. Vanderhoff explained. "For that population, we have another important option, and that’s therapeutic treatments. We’re fortunate to have some very effective therapeutic treatments right now. In general, these treatments are designed to help people who have become infected fight the virus off – and especially to help high-risk people who get infected to avoid severe disease.”
The White House Coronavirus Task Force also held a briefing Wednesday, reporting prescriptions for the antiviral Paxlavid are up four-fold in the last month.
“Beyond the vaccinations and boosting which are making a very big difference, I think Paxlovid is making a very big difference as well,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, still in his first weeks as the new White House coronavirus response coordinator.
The state has added to its website, to make it easy to find options for testing and treatment. You can find that here. Dr. Vanderhoff says getting that prescription quickly after testing positive is the most important for outcomes, “Talk to your provider early when you test positive about the possibility of getting on a therapeutic,” he said Wednesday.
CDC LEVELS AND PREPARING FOR THE MONTHS AHEAD
When it comes to Ohio, all but one of Ohio's 88 counties is green in the CDC's map, which signals low levels. Lawrence County, which is located far south, is the only Ohio location listed at the yellow level (medium).
“Nationally, more than 81 percent of counties are green and only 4 percent are orange – or high," Dr. Vanderhoff said. "This is good news as we head into warmer weather. But we need to take this opportunity to prepare for the fall when more of us are indoors – or to prepare for unanticipated changes in viral activity. We need to be asking ourselves right now: How can we fully prepare for the future to protect ourselves from severe illness?”
He urged vaccinations as the best form of protection.
The concern is that no one knows what fall will bring. “That's exactly the reason why we're doing studies right now to determine what the best boost would be as we get into the fall and early winter,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, during the White House briefing. The team elaborated production on a new formula, or bivalent version, of vaccine to better fight variants, will take at least three months.
“My guess is we're going to start to see huge push to get people vaccinated in the fall because we're just so unsure of what we're going to be dealing with at that point,” said Dr. Amy Edwards with University Hospital’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s.
Dr. Edwards told our Sara Shookman, bluntly: “Everyone is going to get COVID. what we have to choose is how we're going to get COVID. And for me, in my house, when we get COVID, it's going be fully protected and fully boosted so that we risk as few side effects and complications as possible.”
Boosters could be approved by the CDC for kids 5 to 11 as soon as this week. The FDA is set to consider both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines for children six months to 5 years old 5 in June. “We will likely have that vaccine available sometime this summer, or late summer,” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo with Ohio Health. “So stay tuned on that.”
“We’ve got to do what we can to prevent infections. We’ve got to do what we can to be sure infections don’t turn into severe illness. We’ve got to continue being on the lookout for new variants, new subvariants, continue to do that surveillance,” said Dr. Jha.
USPS is offering a third round of free at-home tests available here.
CALL CENTER CHANGES
As demand levels change, the Ohio Department of Health will also adjust their call center hours to Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The call center will be closed on weekends and holidays.