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COVID Hospitalizations Continue To Rise, Doctors Dread Holiday Exposure

Nov 23, 2020

Health officials say the number of hospitalizations best reflect the spread of coronavirus in Ohio.
Credit Ohio Department of Health / coronavirus.ohio.gov

After a week of incomplete data, state health officials are reporting over 11,000 new COVID-19 cases in Ohio, but caution those numbers include two days worth of back reports from Mercy Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic over the weekend. 

Ohio Governor Mike Dewine says the number of hospitalizations is more indicative of the spread of the virus:

"At the press conference on Thursday I noted that we had more than 38-hundred COVID patients that were in the hospital at that time, the highest patient count that we had seen throughout the eight months of the pandemic.  Unfortunately the number has continued to go up.  The Ohio Hospital Association is reporting that we are at 4,358 patients as of today.  59% increase from just two weeks ago."

And DeWine notes that nearly a quarter of those patients are in intensive care units.

Doctor Andy Thomas of OSU Wexner Medical Center is head of the state's monitoring efforts in zone 2, which includes Columbus.  He says the number of hospitalizations here is surging.

"On November 2nd we crossed 400 patients for the first time.  Four days later on November 6th we crossed 500 patients for the first time.  Four days later on November 10th we crossed 600 patients fro the first time.  A week later on the 17th we crossed 700 patients for the first time.  The next day on the 18th we crossed 800 patients in the hospital in zone at the same time.  On the 21st, just on Saturday, we crossed 900 patients for the first time.  So, going from November 2, just before Election Day, now we're crossing 900 patients [in the hospital at the same time] just three weeks later."

During the surge of COVID cases this spring, hospitals were worried about hospital beds and personal protective gear.  But now the problem is having enough staff.  Robert Willey of the Cleveland Clinic says medical professionals are not immune to community spread of the coronavirus - which complicates the stress hospitals are under.

"The Cleveland Clinic alone today - and this was echoed in the other systems - we have 970 caregivers out. Because they're either on quarantine, or they have active COVID infections. And they're not catching it in the hospital; our caregivers are getting COVID in the community.  When you have 970 caregivers plus who are out, that means it's starting to affect our ability to care for patients."

One way of dealing with that crunch is closing down some services.  In recent weeks several health care sytems have begun transferring staff who would have done elective in-patient surgeries and put them in general and intensive care.  Wyllie and UC Medical director Richard Lofgren say that what people do now - postponing Thanksgiving get-togethers, wearing masks, staying at home where possible - can have a dramatic impact on what the end of the year looks like.

Wyllie: "There's typically a delay of about one week for people to become symptomatic, if they're going to become symptomatic.  And there's about another week before they require hospitalitzation because their symptoms are relatively severe.  So we would expect the hospitalizations follow in two weeks.
Lofgren: You start to see then the cascade of sick, to hospitalizations, to ICU.  And then the later, most lagging is death.  That whole cycle is probably usually about four weeks."

Several counties, including Franklin, Lucas and Summit, have issued stay-at-home advisories in an effort to stop that escalation.  in the early days of the pandemic Ohio drew national praise for early mandates that slowed the spread of the coronavirus, and 'flattened the curve'.  But since then, Governor DeWine has focused on pleas to Ohioans to precautions and protect the community and has been reluctant to return statewide regulations with penalties....

"I've not ruled out anything.  But we've got to give people in Ohio a chance to turn this around, because I think we can turn it around.  We've got to give curfew time to work, we've got to give the mask order which is now being enforced vigorously in retail time to work.  But mostly what we have to do is let people soak in what is the reality of this."

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been over 363,000 cases of COVID-19 in Ohio, and 6,020 deaths.