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COVID-19 Cases Surging In Ohio Fueled By The Delta Variant

Ohio is seeing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious delta variant with a startling number of younger people getting sick, state health officials said Thursday.

The state reported 3,272 new cases on Thursday, the second straight day new cases topped 3,000. Both figures are more than double the 21-day average. Ohio also reported jumps in hospitalizations and ICU admissions in the last two days.

Hospitalizations and deaths are also increasing, although hospitals across the state still have the capacity to treat patients, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine appointed him to lead the department earlier this week, replacing Stephanie McCloud,  who ran ODH for the past nine months.

“We nevertheless have heightened concern, as reports emerge from other states that hospitals there are beginning to turn away elective procedures and face real pressure on their physical resources. We don’t want to see our hospitals here in Ohio facing such a scenario,” he said

The most recent sequencing data from July 18 through 31 showed the delta variant made up nearly all of the samples analyzed, Dr. Vanderhoff said.

“That means, we can safely assume that any case we are currently seeing in Ohio is almost certainly the result of delta variant,” Vanderhoff said in a news conference Thursday.

The delta variant spreads more easily than the original COVID-19 strain and can cause those who are infected to develop a more serious illness. Because of this, cases are rapidly surging in the state, with the overall state case rate now approaching 200 cases per 100,000 residents, up from 125.1 last week, Vanderhoff said.

Dr. Steven Burdette, an infectious disease physician at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, said the vast majority of people hospitalized are unvaccinated.

“Our vaccinated patients, in general, are minimally to no symptomatic and doing very well,” he said. “Our COVID intensive care unit is full of patients who are unvaccinated.”

Hospitals are also seeing a startling uptick in younger, otherwise healthy individuals suffering a severe case and needing hospitalization or even a ventilator, Burdette added. Nursing home patients and older individuals are no longer making up the majority of hospitalized patients at his hospital, he said.

“That is very different than what we were seeing before. This is not young people with cancer, this is not young people with HIV. This is young people who were working in a factory two, three weeks ago, before they got COVID,” Burdette said.

Individuals who are obese seem to be the most at risk for developing a severe case, he added.

“If you are an unvaccinated, overweight young person and you get COVID, you have a very significant chance of having a very complicated course and potentially a bad outcome,” Burdette said.

Getting vaccinated remains the best defense against the delta variant, Vanderhoff said.

Anyone over the age of 18 can receive the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, while the Pfizer shot is authorized for anyone age 12 and up. For young children not yet eligible for the vaccine, Vanderhoff said it is important for them to wear masks indoors in public, and schools are encouraged to require masks during the school day.

Vaccinations are trending upward across the state, and more than 60% of Ohio adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to ODH data. About 10,000 people per day are starting the vaccination process, with 5,000 completing the vaccine series, Vanderhoff said.

“For most people, you don’t need a booster,” he said. “Right now the data is continuing to show that the vaccines, including J&J, are providing substantial and excellent protection against severe illness.”

The Food and Drug Administration will consider authorizing an additional dose of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals who are immunocompromised soon.

Ohio hospitals should consider mandating vaccinations for their employees, Burdette said.

“I’m sick and tired of losing colleagues," he said. "The only way we can stop that from happening is with vaccination.”

Both Burdette and Vanderhoff said all three COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. underwent thorough research and review before being authorized, and no shortcuts were taken during the process.

Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.

Anna joined ideastream in 2019, where she reports on health news for WCPN and WVIZ in Cleveland. She has also served as an associate producer for NewsDepth. Before that, Anna was a 2019 Carnegie-Knight News21 fellow at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.