NORWOOD, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health's vaccination clinic in Norwood was busy Thursday as residents stopped by to get their booster shots ahead of the holidays. The same day, the department reported 15,989 new COVID-19 cases — setting a new record for cases in a day for the third straight day.
Thursday's number broke previous records set on Wednesday (12,864) and Tuesday (12,502). Until this week, Ohio hadn't recorded 12,000 cases in a day since January.
"With these numbers, we have a troubling picture — one that should be a wake-up call for every Ohioan as we think about our risk of getting sick with COVID-19, especially as we think about gatherings with loved ones for the holidays," said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the state's health director.
While cases are rising, hospitalization numbers are dropping. Ohio reported 345 new hospitalizations on Thursday, which was down from 492 on Wednesday and 584 on Tuesday. Ohio's 21-day hospitalization average is 328. The number of new hospitalizations peaked at 612 on Dec. 7.
Less hospitalization is consistent with what some data has revealed so far about the omicron variant of COVID-19, where it is more infectious, but with less severe outcomes and symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's too early to make that determination for the variant's behavior overall in the U.S. The CDC said that it is clear that omicron does spread faster compared to past strains of COVID-19. In fact, the agency says anyone who contracts omicron should expect to pass it on to someone else, even if the person infected is vaccinated or doesn't have symptoms.
"More data are needed to know if omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants," the agency said.
Vaccines do not offer as much protection against getting infected with omicron as they have against previous versions of the coronavirus, as the CDC says omicron will "likely" cause breakthrough cases. However, vaccines still help — a lot.
White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week that vaccines still offer substantial protection against omicron.
"Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron," Fauci said last Wednesday. "At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster. And so the message remains clear. If you're unvaccinated, get vaccinated. And particularly in the arena of omicron, if you're fully vaccinated, get your booster shot."
According to lab tests, while two doses may not be strong enough to prevent infection, a booster shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine produces virus-fighting antibodies capable of tackling omicron.
The CDC says adults who have not yet gotten a booster shot should do so as soon as possible. Those who got a Johnson & Johnson vaccine should seek a booster two months after their initial dose, and those who got Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations should get a booster six months after their final dose.
“It's important for us to remember that not all cases of COVID are the same,” Vanderhoff said. “ There's a real difference between getting COVID-19 if you're unvaccinated vs. getting it if you're vaccinated."
Jason Boyd of Cincinnati was one of the residents in line for his booster Thursday.
"There's a lot of people out here who are sick and dying,” Boyd said. "I think it's very important that we get that booster shot.”
While some at the clinic said they received their shot as an extra layer of protection ahead of a busy start to the new year, others said it was best for their schedule.
"I work at a Kroger and there's so many people," Margaret Laake said. "[I] just want to be safe and have all the boxes checked.”
In addition to vaccines and boosters, the CDC says mask usage and testing are key ways to fight the spread of the omicron variant.
The agency still recommends that Americans continue to wear masks indoors and in large crowds in areas of substantial or high community transmission. As of Wednesday afternoon, the CDC considered the vast majority of the U.S. to be an area of high community transmission.
While the U.S. is currently experiencing a COVID-19 testing shortage, the CDC says Americans should seek out a test if they think they've been exposed or are experiencing symptoms.
"If your self-test has a positive result, stay home or isolate for 10 days, wear a mask if you have contact with others, and call your healthcare provider," the CDC says on its website.
Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of COVID-19 in the U.S.
Federal health officials said on Monday that omicron accounted for an estimated 73% of new infections last week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in the proportion of infections in only one week.
Since the end of June, the delta variant has been the main version causing U.S. infections. Scientists in Africa first sounded the alarm about omicron less than a month ago.