The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
With fewer than 1 in 2 Ohioans vaccinated, public health data shows COVID-19 is once again ascendant in Ohio as immunizations slow and a hyper-transmissible variant proliferates.
More than 700 Ohioans are hospitalized as of Monday with COVID-19 — a far cry from hellacious peaks above 5,000 from last winter, but a 163% increase over the last three weeks, according to data from the Ohio Hospital Association.
On Friday, 929 Ohioans contracted COVID-19, a fourfold increase from early July, according to an analysis of data from the Ohio Department of Health. More than five in 100 COVID-19 tests taken in Ohio are yielding positive results, up from one in 100 in early July.
Not only are cases increasing, but they’re doing so amid what’s typically a slow season for respiratory diseases, when vaccines are widely available, and when the pool of vulnerable people is at an all-time low. Of 11.7 million Ohioans, 5.8 million have been vaccinated and 1.1 million have been infected (state data does not track crossover between these figures).
Seventeen Ohio counties are experiencing high rates of COVID-19 transmission, the highest rate of spread, according to the CDC.
Experts attribute the rising caseloads — a national trend — to a new and easier to spread variant of the coronavirus and a significant cross section of the population that has abstained from vaccination.
One outbreak in particular, in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, has rang alarm bells on the delta variant and its significance. Some 469 people contracted COVID-19 after attending “densely packed indoor and outdoor” events at bars, restaurants and homes in early to mid-July. Enhanced testing in 90% of 133 infected patients identified the delta variant.
Three in four of the cases occurred in fully vaccinated people, 80% of whom reported symptomatic infection, according to a CDC report on the outbreak. Of five people hospitalized amid the outbreak, four were fully vaccinated (two of the four had underlying medical conditions).
While breakthrough infections do occur, they represent an iota of the current caseload. State officials said last week that unvaccinated patients comprise 98.8% of the hospitalization load from COVID-19.
“We are seeing the virus go up, we think the delta variant is the dominant one in Ohio,” Gov. Mike DeWine said Sunday on CNN. “Yet the whole game today is vaccinations. We think we have room to go.”
State data shows 49.4% of Ohioans have at least began the vaccination process (DeWine said this is about 58% of Ohioans who meet the 12-and-up age restriction). Only 15 U.S. states trail Ohio in terms of their vaccination coverage.
Regardless, DeWine has steered clear of more aggressive policy reactions to the possibly looming surge. Last week, he announced he would encourage but not require public schools to compel students to wear masks to slow the spread of coronavirus. Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the health department’s pandemic point man, said there are no plans to require ODH employees to be vaccinated against the disease.
National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins also said Sunday that while breakthrough infections can occur, the power of the three available vaccines are self-evident in the results.
“If you’re vaccinated now, your chances of getting infected go down by about 3.5-fold,” he said. “Your chances of even having symptoms of that go down 8-fold. Your chance of having illness significant enough to be in the hospital goes down about 25-fold.”