CINCINNATI — COVID-19 positivity rates are approaching peak levels of the pandemic from 2020 because of the surge of the Omicron variant, which is more contagious than previous variants like Delta but is also less severe in nature.
The state of Ohio has seen a jump in its positivity rate to an estimated 20 to 24.9 percent. Kentucky is estimated to be 10 to 14.9 percent. Indiana's latest rates weren't available.
Warren County has the highest positivity rate among regional Ohio counties at 16.67 percent. Butler County is at 16.56 percent, Hamilton is 14.7 percent and Clermont is 12.55 percent.
According to Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman, the Tri-State is closing on the pandemic's peak numbers from December 2020. He said the Tri-State region as a whole had a 16.3 percent positivity rate.
The CDC considered positivity rates at 5 percent or above to be a high threshold during the early days of the pandemic. It recommended businesses not re-open unless positivity rates were below that number. As of July 2021, anything above 10 percent was considered a high positivity rate.
The numbers are starting to affect emergency staffing among first responders. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley made a emergency declaration on Wednesday due to the number of firefighters who have COVID-19 affecting staffing at local fire departments.
"I know for those who work in our health care systems, they are very fearful for what happens next," Kesterman said during a Zoom conference with media on Wednesday. "There needs to be more urgency from the general public. No one is requiring you to wear asks, and no one is shutting down businesses this time around. But it's on each of us to make an impact on our community."
The domination of the Omicron variant is the reason for the sudden rise in cases. Kesterman said during the first week of December, the number of cases were in the single digits percentage wise across the country. By Dec. 18 that number was 73 percent. He said in Ohio approximately 93 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the state are Omicron as of last week.
The age group getting hit hardest by the Omicron surge is 50 to 79 years old. Last year, COVID-19 cases ravaged nursing homes and people over the age of 80.
Driehaus stressed the importance of vaccinations and the booster shot. She said people should also wear masks if they're in public places.
"Omicron is around, but it's not quite as serious for those of us who have been vaccinated and boosted," Driehaus said.
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Hamilton County Public Health: COVID-19 information
Ohio Department of Health: COVID-19 information
Indiana: COVID-19 dashboard and map
Kentucky Public Health: COVID-19 information