COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio hit its highest hospitalization numbers since January 2021 this week, according to Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.
Vanderhoff said more than 8,000 cases were reported in Ohio in the 24-hour period ending Wednesday. More than 1,100 of those cases are in the intensive care unit. Vanderhoff discussed the latest COVID-19 data with Ohio media during a press conference on Thursday morning.
"[The ICU numbers] are higher than the recent fall surge and consistent with last year's winter surge, just as vaccines were becoming available," Vanderhoff said.
The current hospitalization rate is stressing the health care system in the state, especially in areas where vaccinations are below the state average. Hospitalization rates are 35% to 40% higher in counties that fall below the statewide vaccination rate average.
"When we look at the data, our COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to be driven largely by unvaccinated Ohioans," Vanderhoff said.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals is one pressure point in the health care system. The other concern is the staffing challenges hospitals are facing nearly two years into the pandemic.
Mike Samet with Hamilton County Public Health said hospitals in the area are close to capacity.
"This is the biggest spike we've seen," Samet said. "For instance, at Hamilton County Public Health, in the summertime, we were seeing about 40 to 50 cases a day. We are well over 200 and into the 300s on some days, so our cases have expanded exponentially."
Vanderhoff said 62 percent of new cases are occurring in the northern part of the state. Dr. Gary Seaman, a family practitioner in Williams County near Toledo, said the case numbers are overwhelming hospitals in rural areas.
"A high 90 percent of those [hospitalized] are unvaccinated individuals," Seaman said. "The deaths are certainly related to individuals who are unvaccinated."
Seaman said last week three hospitals in rural areas outside Toledo were on EMS standby, meaning they were not accepting ambulances regardless of the patient because they were overwhelmed.
While Vanderhoff said labs in the state have not detected the omicron variant in Ohio, he believes it is in the state. He said he's been encouraged by research out of Sweden and South Africa on the new variant, which showed it had only a modest reduction in antibodies in people it infected. Vanderhoff said current vaccinations and the Pfizer booster shot would help against any potential omicron infections.
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