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Ohio's top doctor says an 'Omicron Tsunami' is hitting the state right now

A drive through COVID testing site in Columbus.
Dan Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
A drive through COVID testing site in Columbus.

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff says the record-high number of cases right now is driving record-high hospitalizations. He uses the word, “tsunami” when describing this surge, driven by the omicron variant.

“Our state is experiencing the highest number of COVID-19 driven in-patient hospitalizations, ICU admissions and patients on ventilators that we have seen throughout this pandemic. And sadly, these beds continue to be filled, better than 9 out of 10 times, with the UNvaccinated,” Vanderhoff says.

Dr. Andy Thomas with the OSU Wexner Medical Center says more than 40% of the tests administered at the hospital's new drive-through site in Columbus come back positive.

“Now we are over 40% at many sites throughout the state. It’s just a different territory than we’ve been in before,” Thomas says.

Health officials began setting up COVID-19 mass testing sites in some of Ohio’s biggest cities a few weeks ago and more are in the works for smaller communities. The Ohio National Guard is assisting with testing in some of the sites.

Dr. Robert Wyllie with the Cleveland Clinic says the high number of positive cases is driving hospital admissions. And he says the sickest patients are unvaccinated.

“75% of the people who are hospitalized are unvaccinated. 87% in the ICU are unvaccinated. And 91% of those on ventilators are unvaccinated,” Wyllie says.

About 59% of eligible Ohioans are currently fully vaccinated. Doctors say more than 40% of tests currently administered at the new mass testing sites are coming back positive.

The Omicron variant is a challenge for doctors because it's highly contagious and even fully vaccinated Ohioans are catching it. But doctors are optimistic that the people who are vaccinated are getting the virus will have more immunity to fight it off in the future, making it harder for the illness to continue at this level.