After two-month plunge, COVID-19 stabilizes in Ohio at high rate

A mass COVID-19 vaccination site in Columbus, Ohio. Source: Columbus Public Health

On Jan. 8, nearly 9,000 Ohioans per day on average were contracting COVID-19. On Monday, that figure was just above 1,900.

Between January and late February, the rate of new infections plummeted. Since then, however, case rates have stabilized, ending a stream of what had come to feel foreign in an era of plague: good news.

Data on the number of Ohioans currently hospitalized with COVID-19 — a useful metric that gauges pandemic-related hospital demand — shows the same pattern.

On Dec. 15, 2020, nearly 5,3000 Ohioans were hospitalized with COVID-19, a staggering burden on the health care system. On Monday, just shy of 1,200 Ohioans were hospitalized with the disease.

The new trend leaves room for hope and worry. On the upside, fewer Ohioans are contracting COVID-19 on a daily basis; warmer weather opens doors to outdoor activity less likely to enable coronavirus spread; and warmer and more humid air generally reduces the transmission of respiratory viruses.

Conversely, an average of 2,000 Ohioans per day are still contracting a virus that has killed 506,000 Americans, including some 17,000 Ohioans in a year; Ohio’s third wave of coronavirus cases launched from baseline of around 1,000 infections per day, about half of today’s rates; and the Ohio Department of Health has identified at least 19 instances statewide of a coronavirus variant known to spread more effectively than the dominant U.S. strain.

Now, officials worry the ground is fertile for a fourth surge in infections.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned Monday that she’s “deeply concerned” about the trajectory of the pandemic, noting a slight uptick in infections and death on a national level.

She said progress combatting the virus is “stalling,” and that now, with several variants in circulation that spread easier than the dominant U.S. strain, is no time for states to dial back mitigation efforts.

“We cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, [and] 2000 daily deaths,” she said, referring to national data. “Please hear me clearly, at this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”

Gov. Mike DeWine said there are two keys in the next two months for some semblance of a normal summer to the next few months: masks and vaccines.

He said he agrees with Walensky’s assessment: If we want county fairs and baseball this summer, masks and vaccines must be a part of that conversation.

“It’s very important as we talk about the spring and the summer to continue to do what we have to do,” he said.

“You will not see us letting up in regard to the mask wearing, the distancing, until we get to the point where we have that herd immunity we’re all longing for.”

About 1.7 million Ohioans have received at least one of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Over the weekend, the Food and Drug Administration authorized use of a new vaccine (from Johnson & Johnson), likely to increase the inoculation uptake.

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