CLEVELAND — Five Ohio counties, including three in Northeast Ohio, are now designated as areas with high community levels for COVID-19, according to the latest data from the CDC.
The updated numbers released Thursday evening show Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Lorain, Wood and Lucas Counties as “orange,” or considered high exposure, on the CDC maps. Another 18 Ohio counties are now “yellow” or medium risk exposure.
“I just think a lot of people feel like, personally, they’re done with it. Here at the health department I can tell you – I don’t want to be dramatic and say, ‘Far from over’ – but we are certainly still feeling the effects,” Kevin Brenna, the communications officer at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, said of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CDC’s community level classifications are now based on a combination of new case numbers, new hospital admissions and the percentage of hospital beds devoted to COVID patients.
In Lorain County, new cases are up nearly 17% from the previous week. Cuyahoga County’s new cases are up more than 28 percent. Health departments believe the official numbers are likely much lower than the reality.
“We know that there’s a lot of viral load out there. The numbers should be about 1,200 [cases] a day. It’s that high, but we’re at 250 a day,” said Lorain County Public Health Commissioner Mark Adams, explaining the health department monitors viral load through waste sampling.
Adams said the popularity of at-home testing, as well as a number of asymptomatic cases, likely mean many cases will go unreported.
Hospital admissions for the virus have also been rising moderately, but both Adams and Brennan said they’re not putting a strain on the local healthcare systems. CDC data shows both counties with fewer than 12 hospitalizations per 100,000 people.
“We're finding that a lot of people just think that they have allergies,” Adams said of the severity of cases he’s seeing.
Both health departments said though cases appear to be less severe than during earlier periods of the pandemic, the high community level should be a sign not to let your guard down.
Brennan explained the Cuyahoga County Board of Health recommends taking precautions, especially around high-risk and unvaccinated individuals.
“Cleaning high-touch surfaces, washing hands thoroughly, social distancing and wearing a mask - those are still the four components that we’re holding true to,” Brennan said.
For the Memorial Day holiday weekend, they also recommend gathering outdoors or in a socially distant manner.
“If you're sick, stay home. See your relatives in about five to 10 days when you can see them and not be sick,” Adams added. “If you're going to miss out on Memorial Day festivities, it's okay to just hold off and to wait and go see them later instead of taking the chance.