COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and leaders of the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA) gathered virtually Monday to deliver a clear message to Ohioans: personal behavior needs to change in order to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system.
Ohio's hospitalizations continue to rise statewide, with Sunday's numbers reflecting the highest number of patients hospitalized since the start of the pandemic. Across the state, 2,533 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 on Monday, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard.
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, incoming Chief Medical Director at the Ohio Department of Health, said the main challenge Ohio hospitals faced during the spring and summer spikes was securing global supplies like personal protective equipment and ventilators. He said hospitals were able to avoid becoming overwhelmed because people pulled together to reduce spread. The challenge now, according to Vanderhoff, is cases.
"If we don't control the spread of the virus in our case numbers, we won't be able to continue caring for the acutely ill without postponing important but less urgent care," Vanderhoff said. "And we anticipate that this kind of shift could happen quickly in a matter of weeks if trends don't change."
Dr. Andrew Thomas of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said hospitalizations can rise even with the spread of the virus controlled.
"We know that patients don't get admitted to the hospital typically on the first day that they're symptomatic. It's seven to 14 days out from their diagnosis where they need to be admitted," Thomas said. "If we're continuing to see cases on the rise, what we know will happen is hospitalizations will be on the rise still for two weeks after those cases peak."
Dr. Robert Wyllie from Cleveland Clinic said they are fully equipped with the necessary equipment, medicine and beds to battle a spike in cases, but with rising cases comes a shortage of healthcare providers.
"We have over 300 out of the Cleveland Clinic alone today," Wyllie said. "And it's not because they're catching it in the hospital, they're catching it in the community. What we're asking everyone to do is really double-down, because the end is in sight."
The OHA address comes the same day Pfizer announced that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate has been proven to be 90% effective in Phase 3 trials.
Still, it does not mean a vaccine is imminent. The Associated Press said that while Pfizer's announcement means the company is on track to file an application for emergency use authorization later this month, limited initial supplies will be rationed.
In the meantime, families everywhere are planning what their 2020 version of a holiday season will look like. Dr. Ronda Lehman, president of Mercy Health Lima, said adjustments to holiday plans is critical while a vaccine starts to slowly become available.
"I'm an optimist about the vaccine, but I'm even more of an optimist about what each of us can do individually if we make some critical behavior changes," Lehman said. "The last thing I want to do is give up Thanksgiving and Christmas and the things that are coming that we look forward to, but we gotta do it differently. We have to. The survival of our communities is depending on you."
All of Ohio's 88 counties are dealing with COVID-19 hospitalizations. Lehman called on smaller towns in areas outside of metro cities like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus to control personal behavior to slow the spread.
"I want people in the small communities throughout Ohio to recognize that those behaviors in those smaller groups do roll up and have a substantial impact to their neighbors, the people they worship with and go to school with, and the people they care about in their circles," Lehman said.
Some experts have attributed the rise of case numbers to “COVID fatigue” — a state of psychological exhaustion in which Americans attempt to return to pre-pandemic normality despite the risk to their own safety.
Dr. Richard Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health, said those who plan to gather for Thanksgiving need to remember what has been proven to work: masks and social distancing.
"If you have new friends coming to your house, they need to put on a mask," Lofgren said. "Your house isn't magically safe. The spread isn't happening in the schools and the businesses and the bars, it's happening in everyday life."