CLEVELAND — On Thursday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 11,013 new COVID-19 cases in the state over the past week and while the trend of low hospitalization and death rates continue they remain below the three-week reported average. But where does that leave Ohioans seeing the surge and wondering how they should move forward?
For Marla Zwinggi, one of the so-called Vaccine Queens, two local women who helped thousands of people in Ohio get a COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic, the surge has impacted her family directly.
“Unfortunately, I tested positive yesterday afternoon so of the five family members, four of us pretty much were COVID positive," Zwinggi said. “We made it 781 days."
Two years of efforting to avoid it saw the Zwinggi family avoid the virus, but with things around the country returning to a sense of normalcy, they let their guard down as many others have as well.
“In the last month with the numbers going down, especially in Geauga County, we did let our guard down,” Zwinggi said. “I’m just so thankful for the availability of vaccines to know that I don’t have the panic that I would—that I had—last year prior to having the kids vaccinated. I know that we’re going to be okay.”
The availability of the vaccine, as well as the development of the virus in terms of how each variant affects those infected, have changed the way the virus is impacting the state. Health experts are seeing this and guiding Ohioans as they take in the new information and continue trying to move forward from the pandemic.
Lorain County Health Commissioner Mark Adams is aware of the surge, which his county is seeing at a higher rate than others across the state.
“Everywhere that was affected by omicron and everywhere that they picked up the sub-variant, there's also been a bump—whether it's a summer bump or a spring bump—in cases, a slight surge," Adams said. “The good part about it is that they're not seeing the levels that we have right now, especially when it comes to hospitalizations— [they] are still half of what they were in July 2021."
Adams said that a mix of vaccination availability and previous COVID-19 infections could be helping keep hospitalizations and deaths low across the state, as well as keeping many of the symptoms mild for those who contract the virus.
“You're seeing infection in even people that were vaccinated, but they're having very mild illness if they had the illness at all...you're not really seeing that impact when it comes to healthier people, whether they've been vaccinated or whether they've had COVID and have some immunity from that," Adams said. "We're not really seeing that the same presentation of illness that we saw especially a year ago, and especially if somebody got delta and with that large surge of people that were getting omicron—maybe it wasn't affecting them as badly as maybe somebody that got alpha or delta."
Where the virus continues to remain dangerous at this time is in people with other health conditions and among people over the age of 65.
“You're seeing that there's still a group of people 50 and older—65 and older really—that have a higher susceptibility to a poor health outcome, especially those with a comorbidity," Adams said. “Our big reminder is to folks, especially if you're in one of those age groups, especially if you have those comorbidities, to make sure that you take care of yourself."
While people over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions should be among the most vigilant, experts like Dr. Hassan Khouli, Chair of the Department of Critical Care Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, urge everyone to keep in mind that COVID-19 is still out there and there are ways to prevent it.
"We have more tools to fight the COVID-19 infection, we have more tools to prevent it with vaccinations and boosters, we have more treatment to treat it and these are really the good things here to be aware of and we know that when we need to social distancing and masking can prevent also some of these infections from happening and hospitalizations from occurring," Khouli said. "I think this is a moment to reflect on and to continue to be cautious and to continue to be aware that this is not over and we do need to continue to really do what works for us."
Health experts believe these peaks and valleys will continue, here in Ohio and across the country, but hope that people continue to stay informed and follow best practices to protect themselves from the virus and the potential for more serious symptoms like those seen in the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you need a vaccine, give us a call. If you need anything, a mask, anything, give us a call.," Adams said. “It's still out there and that it can really still affect you in some way. And we just want to we want it to go away everybody does and we just want to keep everybody as safe as possible.”
As for Zwinggi, she hopes people continue talking to their doctors and taking the virus seriously while returning to a more normal way of life, as she aims to do with her family.
“We just have to look at our own individual risks and say 'OK, are we going to a crowded event? Do we feel like the risk is higher, the risk is low?' And I encourage everybody to talk to their doctors," Zwinggi said. “In terms of us, I think we just are going to live differently now. I mean, obviously the hand washing, but we can't be crazy. We still have to live our lives.”
And of course, the Vaccine Queen hopes that people who have not yet received a vaccine and may still be on the fence about it remain open and consider getting the jab if it's right for them.
"One of the important points to note about Vaccine Queens is we never push the vaccine on anyone...Stacey [Bene]
and I recognize that it is an individual choice," Zwinggi said. "For us, I would have rather taken the vaccine and not gotten as ill than wondering what maybe long-term COVID effects would have done to myself and my family.”
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