The Ohio Department of Health and hospital leaders from the state’s three biggest cities urged Ohioans on Friday to get vaccinated, raising alarm over data showing “troubling” increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“We’re seeing new cases at a rate similar to what we saw in January and February,” said state health director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff. “Our real concern is that our hospitals are busier than ever.”
On Thursday, the state saw its highest level of new COVID-19 cases in seven months, reaching more than 5,300 cases. Much of the resurgence has been attributed to the more-contagious delta variant, which has particularly impacted the unvaccinated.
While at the beginning of summer, the situation seemed to be getting better, late July saw a “real increase” in hospitalizations, said Vanderhoff. August saw a “very steep incline.”
For example, on July 9, there were just 200 Ohioans in hospitals for the virus. On Thursday, that number was more than 2,000.
Statewide, about 1 in 10 Ohioans who are hospitalized have tested positive for COVID-19, Vanderhoff said, and 1 in 6 patients in intensive care units are COVID-19-positive. As of Friday, there were 2,114 patients currently hospitalized statewide with 620 of them in intensive care, per Ohio Department of Health data.
About 22% of inpatient beds are available across the state, and about one quarter of ICU beds are available. The amount of space being taken up by people specifically for COVID-19 has been steadily increasing over the past month.
“All of us are facing significant capacity challenges,” said Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief medical operations officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “It feels like where we were in mid-December.”
In the Cincinnati area, the challenge will be staffing, not supplies, if things get worse, said Dr. Richard P. Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health.
Hospitals and medical centers were already busy with non-COVID-19 patients, because people had put off care for a long time due to the pandemic. Having the COVID-19 load returning is making things worse, hospital officials said.
A big reason hospitals are fearing being overburdened soon is the toll the pandemic has taken on adequate staffing. Many simply stopped working overtime or left the field, and the feeling another surge is imminent after things seemed to improve is taking an additional toll, said Robert Wyllie, chief medical operations officer at the Cleveland Clinic.
Some medical leaders are advising that Ohioans remember what happened during the COVID-19 wave earlier this year.
“That safety net is now in jeopardy, due to the surging spread of COVID-19 infection and rising hospitalizations,” wrote four CEOs of Columbus-area hospitals. “In the last four weeks, we have collectively witnessed a staggering 457% increase in COVID-19 patients in our hospitals … We need you to act now.”
OhioHealth paused elective procedures, a move that was commonly seen during the early peak of the pandemic.
The Health Collaborative, a Cincinnati nonprofit group coordinating southwest Ohio’s COVID-19 response, recorded this week they were 2,416 patients hospitalized overall, just 205 patients below the “extreme” stress level.
Gov. Mike DeWine told the Cincinnati Enquirer on Thursday that the primary way out of the worsening situation is “to get more people vaccinated.” He so far has refused to implement COVID-19 mandates like mask orders, instead emphasizing personal responsibility.
Both eligible children (ages 12 and older) and adults have surpassed the 60% vaccination threshold, which is important, said Vanderhoff, but not enough.
As of Friday, at least 51% of Ohioans have gotten a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Titus Wu is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.