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'You can't let your guard down': Younger patients driving Ohio's spike in COVID-19

Cincinnati officials urge people to get tested
Posted at 1:54 PM, Jun 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 23:16:45-04

COLUMBUS — Patients between the ages of 20-49 have propelled Ohio’s early-summer spike in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday afternoon. Health experts predict many will survive their own illness without incident — potentially even without symptoms — but could easily and unknowingly transmit it to more vulnerable segments of the state’s population.

Thursday, when DeWine unveiled state data showing the diagnoses had shifted to a much younger age group, was Ohio’s fourth-highest day of new cases since the pandemic began. Eight hundred forty-two people were diagnosed overnight.

“We have increased testing, but no analyst I have talked to believes that the total increase is due to that at all,” DeWine said.

Based on data collected by the Ohio Department of Health, the only three days to exceed Thursday’s number had been in mid-April. Diagnoses peaked April 19, when testing identified 1,380 cases in a 24-hour span.

Much of the day’s briefing focused on Hamilton County, where health data suggests each patient will infect more than one other person and continue to drive diagnosis totals upward.

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This graphic labels each pictured county with its R-nought number — the number of people each COVID-19 patient is projected to infect. An R-nought number of above 1 indicates the virus will continue to spread; an R-nought number below 1 forecasts a downward trend in diagnoses.

The Cincinnati-based Health Collaborative found most new patients in Hamilton County were between 20-30, with 30- to 40-year-olds in a distance second place but still overrepresented compared to other age groups. The new diagnoses have pulled the average age of a COVID-19 patient in Ohio down to 42.

These trends are moving in the wrong direction, said University of Cincinnati Health CEO Dr. Richard Lofgren. They’d been far more promising until mid-June.

“Hamilton County and the surrounding areas really have done an incredible job at slowing down and containing the spread of the virus until, unfortunately, the last 10-plus days, where we’ve definitely seen an uptick or a spike in the number of new cases,“ Lofgren said.

Although younger patients are less likely than older ones to die from COVID-19, they may still become sick enough to require hospitalization, the use of a ventilator and a permanent adjustment to life without full lung function.

WCPO covid graphic dewine.jpeg
The Cincinnati-based Health Collaborative gathered data that shows people between 20-40 make up an increasingly large number of new COVID-19 diagnoses. Although they are less vulnerable to serious complications, they may still experience them — or, if not, spread the virus to people whose health is far more fragile.

At a pop-up testing center at CityLink on Bank Street, roughly 700 people were able to get tested and see results quickly. With new testing facilities, including an upcoming walk-up and drive-thru center at the Roberts Academy in Price Hill from Thursday to Saturday, Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore hopes more people can check their COVID-19 status quickly.

“We want everyone to know their status,” Moore said. “Whether or not they have it. So they can practice appropriate social distancing and wearing a mask.”

Testing is also available at Bond Hill Academy Elementary school and Cincinnati health centers. Click here to find the testing center in Hamilton County nearest you.

DeWine declined to speculate about a possible reason that diagnoses had shifted toward a younger age group. Lofgren emphasized the need for Ohioans to continue practicing basic antiviral hygiene, including frequent hand-washing and universal mask-wearing.

“At this point in time, we don’t have the ability to eradicate the virus,” he said. “This really highlights the importance, in every community, to maintain the relatively simple safety measures that we know will prevent the spread in the community.

“We have done a great job, but you can’t let your guard down.”

DeWine ended the briefing by reiterating his pledge to bring more testing resources to Hamilton County. Anyone in the area can check Hamilton County Public Health’s map of active testing sites at any time to find one near them.

The governor added he expected to provide an update on long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living, on June 30.