Two weeks, 2,000 new cases: COVID-19 accelerates in Ohio

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

State data shows the new coronavirus is picking up speed, having infected at least 2,000 Ohioans in the last two weeks alone, which officials and experts widely believe to be an undercount.

As of Tuesday, 2,199 Ohioans are known to be infected with COVID-19 — 266 diagnosed within the last 24 hours. At least 585 people have been hospitalized due to the disease, 198 of whom required ICU care. Fifty-five people have died after infection.

Just two weeks prior, there were 67 confirmed cases, 17 hospitalizations, and the first three known deaths connected to COVID-19 in Ohio.

At a press briefing Monday, Dr. Heidi Gullett, medical director for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, described the virus speeding up.

“Here in Cuyahoga county, we have 338 cases. Just a week ago statewide, we had 351,” she said. “So you can see the acceleration is pretty significant.”

As of Tuesday, a known 527 people in Cuyahoga County have been infected, the most of any county in the state.

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton typically bookends her daily briefing on new cases by noting they only represent the “tip of the iceberg” — shortages of testing equipment have left the state’s detection abilities well behind the virus’ spread.

William Miller, senior associate dean of research at Ohio State University’s college of public health, said Ohio’s data is consistent with what’s happening elsewhere.

He noted the confirmed case counts show the state’s known infected population is doubling every two to three days.

“That’s why it was really important to be aggressive early on with the social distancing measures and that sort of thing,” he said. “If you wait until where we are now, for example, then you’re behind the curve.”

The known infection count doesn’t include people who are believed by their physicians to be infected but do not meet testing criteria, which is prioritized for the elderly, health care workers, people requiring hospitalization, and people with certain underlying health conditions.

Even where testing is available, officials from county health departments all the way up to Gov. Mike DeWine have lamented the delay in testing at private labs.

For instance, a Quest Diagnostics spokeswoman said in a statement that testing turnaround time averages at 4-5 days from the time test specimens are picked up to be sent to the company’s labs.

In Franklin County, home to the second-highest number of known infected people, a health department spokesman said results can take longer than a week to get back from private labs.

There are testing shortages even in death. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported some county medical examiners and coroners don’t have the ability to conduct post-mortem testing because they lack testing kits to collect samples.

Researchers at OSU have estimated when the epidemic peaks — sometime in the next two to four weeks — somewhere between 6,000 to 10,000 people will be infected per day.

On Tuesday, Acton referred to the current era as the “calm before the storm,” and reemphasized the need to maintain social distancing practices while state officials seek to double or triple Ohio hospitals’ capacity.

The counties with the most cases tend to be those with the highest populations, many of them surrounding Cuyahoga County. 

However, Mahoning County, population 229,000, has a reported 153 cases — the highest per capita rate among counties with more than 40 cases.

Representatives of the Mahoning County Health Department could not be reached for comment. 

For information on COVID-19 in Ohio and copies of all public health orders, you can visit the state’s coronavirus website here

For information on how to avoid the virus, what symptoms are like and what to do if you think you’re infected, you can go to the CDC’s COVID-19 page here.