COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff said Thursday the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency was sending a team of 20 Air Force doctors and respiratory therapists to help the Cleveland Clinic.
"The (Air Force) team will be working there next week," Vanderhoff said. "During most of these situations these teams have been in place for two months."
President Biden announced Thursday morning the White House and FEMA were sending teams of military doctors to six highly affected states: Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico.
Currently, 2,300 Ohio National Guard are helping at hospitals and testing sites throughout the state with almost all of the hospital help in the north. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine dispatched the guard on Dec. 29, starting with 1,250 members to assist hospitals, including 150 members that could offer medical care.
The Cleveland Clinic, like many hospitals in northern Ohio, has been besieged by COVID in recent weeks. Four of the state's five worst case rates hovered around Cleveland — until Thursday. New ODH data shows only one county in Ohio has a higher COVID case rate than Hamilton County. Erie County near Cleveland reports the highest case rate in the state.
Vanderhoff said any staffing help was critical because of the contagious nature of the omicron variant.
"We're facing a tidal wave of new cases," Vanderhoff said. "It's 70,000 a day and community spread is the driver."
Vanderhoff said a high-level of community spread is considered 100 per 100,000 people. Ohio's spread is now 2,000 per 100,000. Hamilton County is reporting 2,559.2 cases per 100,000 people. Counties around Greater Cincinnati — Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont — now rank higher than the northeast Ohio counties that sat near the top last week.
The Ohio Department of Health has said the amount of infections in the northern part of the state has been more substantial than anywhere else, which is why most help has been deployed in the Cleveland area. The Health Collaborative expects similar teams in southwest Ohio some time in the next week as health care workers hope change follows.
"We are seeing similar numbers in our ICUs as we did in the surge last year, and we have less staff so it feels like more patients," said Dr. Jennifer Forrester, UC Health's associate chief medical officer.
ODH is also prioritizing sending COVID-19 test kits to schools as districts see staffing issues and increased absences due to the surge.
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