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Ohio Hospitals Expect COVID-19 Surge From Thanksgiving Will Worsen Crisis

Ohio State Wexner Medical Center
Ryan Hitchcock

Medical professionals joined Gov. Mike DeWine's coronavirus press conference Thursday to explain the dire situation for hospitals across Ohio. “Quite simply, we’re in crisis,” said Dr. Nora Colburn from Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. 

The state is experiencing a continued surge in hospitalizations, with a 200% increase in patients in just a month.

“Hospitals across the state are running out of beds," Colburn said. "Our nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists and other staff are burned out and stretched thin.”

Although total hospitalizations dropped slightly, Dr. Andy Thomas from the Wexner Medical Center said the state was still over the threshold of 5,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, which it passed for the first time Monday. The state also has more than 1,200 patients in the ICU.

While many hospitals have expanded capacity to meet the surge of COVID-19 patients, Thomas explained it’s difficult to expand capacity in ICUs.

“In those intensive care units, one out of every three patients right now has COVID,” Thomas said. “If that number continues to grow, that is going to crowd out the ability of non-COVID patients to get the care they need in an intensive care unit.”

The impact is felt more by rural hospitals in Regions 7 and 8, covering the south and east parts of Ohio, which are running at 120% of their normal ICU capacity. Thomas indicated that one of those hospitals requested extra ventilators over the weekend and was assisted by larger hospitals.

Thomas warned things could get worse for hospitals, as the current influx of inpatients does not include virus spread from the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We still haven’t seen the impact of Thanksgiving in our hospital numbers. Usually, people are admitted a week after they’re diagnosed,” Thomas said. “This is not the beginning of the end. This is not even the end of the beginning.”

Results from COVID-19 tests administered today should start to detect cases from Thanksgiving gatherings.

A Call To Action

With an additional 8,921 new COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, Ohio has a 15% positivity rate. DeWine said that number is going up, and qualifies the state for its own travel advisory list.

“This is the first week since April where Ohio’s positivity for COVID-19 has increased above 15%,” DeWine said.

The advisory comes with recommendations for Ohioans to stay home except for necessary trips for supplies, mask wearing and hand washing.

Ohio Department of Health chief medical officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said the high positivity rate should be a call to action.

“We really can work together to limit the spread and impact of this virus," Vanderhoff said. "Remember, this virus spreads from me to you when we’re near each other.”

The updated Public Health Advisory Map for this week indicated five new counties were upgraded to level four "purple," the highest level of coronavirus spread: Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark and Summit Counties.

Lake, Lorain and Montgomery Counties remained at level four, while Cuyahoga, Fairfield and Madison Counties were put on the watch list.

Franklin County – the first county in the state to become purple – was downgraded to level three.

Vaccine Preparation

DeWine said he toured the Ohio Department of Health’s receipt, store, and stage warehouse on Tuesday, which is preparing for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.

The facility, operated by the National Guard, plans to break up the shipments from vaccine makers into smaller packages to distribute across the state. DeWine previously said he expects the state could receive the first shipment from Pfizer vaccine near December 15 and another shipment from Moderna possibly by December 22.

Neither company has been granted emergency authorization for their vaccines from the Food and Drug Administration as of Thursday afternoon.

Though he has confidence in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, DeWine stressed that the time when enough shots have been administered to be effective is still a ways away. In the meantime, he wants Ohioans to follow the protocols to slow the spread of the virus.

“We can get there if we all work together and do the things we need to do every day,” he said.

DeWine anticipates the first round of vaccines from Pfizer will have 98,000 doses. Due to the limited quantity, state officials said mandating a COVID-19 vaccine would not be realistic at this time.

DeWine said he would provide more information about the vaccine distribution plan on Friday.