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As Ohio Covid hospitalizations surge, officials fear Thanksgiving will push it over the edge

“We can’t sound the alarm bell loud enough for people in Ohio to change their behavior,” one doctor said.
Health care workers administer free Covid-19 tests last week to people in their cars in Columbus, Ohio.Stephen Zenner / AFP via Getty Images

CINCINNATI — With the coronavirus increasingly sweeping across Ohio and hospitalizations surging, Gov. Mike DeWine fears Thanksgiving may be what pushes hospital occupancy rates to the brink.

The governor, along with some of the state’s top doctors, held an unscheduled news conference Monday to discuss the overwhelming pressure being placed on hospitals.

The conclusion: If Covid-19 hospitalizations continue to soar, surgeries and out-patient procedures will likely slow down.

State officials say the issue is twofold.

First, Ohio continues to set daily coronavirus records, essentially flooding hospitals with new patients. Secondly, the hospital staff who normally cares for the patients are themselves getting infected.

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Take Cleveland, for instance.

“My biggest concern today is that at the Cleveland Clinic, we have 970 caregivers out because they are either in quarantine or they have active Covid infections. They are not catching it in the hospital, they are getting it in the community,” Dr. Robert Wyllie of the Cleveland Clinic said at the gathering, NBC 5 in Cincinnati reported.

On Monday, Cleveland officials announced coronavirus cases had surpassed 10,000, with 308 coming from the previous day.

As the surge increases, doctors and hospitals will have to make more decisions about how to handle it, including postponing surgeries and out-patient procedures, state officials said Monday.

While state officials quickly point out that 3 in 10 hospital beds statewide are currently unoccupied, that could change after Thanksgiving.

DeWine and the doctors are urging residents to be careful over the holiday and to not have many people over.

It’s up to the residents to be responsible regarding who they let inside their homes, said DeWine, a Republican who last week imposed a statewide curfew to help slow the spread of the virus.

“We haven’t seen a plateau yet,” the governor said.

Ohio doctors expect some of the people crowding around the Thanksgiving dinner table to become symptomatic about a week later, with hospitalizations coming a week after that.

“We can’t sound the alarm bell loud enough for people in Ohio to change their behavior,” said Dr. Andy Thomas of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “With Thanksgiving coming up, keep within your bubble. If you have family coming over, hopefully, they’ve been quarantining for 14 days,” NBC 5 reported.

Infection cases on Monday were up to 363,304 along with 6,020 deaths and 24,705 hospitalizations, state health records show.

“Today’s data is incomplete. Thousands of reports are pending review. Additionally, today’s data includes two days of positive test results that were delayed because of technical issues related to lab reporting,” the Ohio Department of Health wrote on its coronavirus tracking dashboard.

State medical officials said they anticipate a 50 percent spike in hospitalizations in the next few weeks.

On Monday, the Ohio Hospital Association said 4,358 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus. Also, 1,079 people were in intensive care units with positive Covid tests.

Ohio is in the first week of DeWine’s three-week curfew, which requires residents to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., with exceptions for fast-food runs, grocery shopping, a trip to the pharmacy or work obligations.

His mandate came last Thursday as the state reported a surge of 7,079 new coronavirus cases, far above the then 21-day average of 5,224.

Suddenly, Franklin County, Ohio’s most populous county, home to the state capitol, Columbus, and Ohio State University, has become the coronavirus epicenter with 665 deaths and 49,267 cases — 14,000 more cases than the next highest county.

The county is the only one in Ohio to reach critical level four, also known as purple, on the public health advisory system.

“We would anticipate that other counties may be designated purple at some point,” said Joe Mazzola, health commissioner of Franklin County.

“It’s not a surprise necessarily that we have the most number of cases,” Mazzola said, citing the county's population. “I think there’s a lot of factors that go into that.”

He noted the county has a robust testing system from health care facilities, drive-thru testing and pop-up clinics.

As of late, the governor has been traveling the state visiting hospitals and talking to experts about the pandemic, trying to decipher ways to keep the virus from spreading.

The governor wants his mandate to slow hospitalizations, keep kids in school and loved ones safe until the vaccine can arrive. Officials said Tuesday that the first round of doses could be distributed as early as Dec. 15, with first doses scheduled to go to those in direct contact with Covid patients.

“This virus lives when it goes from one person to another. If you just decrease the contacts, we’ll be better off, along with the mask wearing,” DeWine said when announcing the curfew.

His plan was backed by the Ohio Restaurant Association.

“We’re in support. We’re gonna do our part to help control the spread of Covid-19. We know there’s tremendous pressure on the medical system,” said John Barker, the association’s president. “We think it’s the right step at the right time.”

All retailers must now enforce and post a sign indicating masks are required inside the establishments as well as maximum capacity amounts at all entrances, according to an order recently signed by Lance Himes, interim director of the Ohio Department of Health.

Retailers should also place hand-sanitizer stations at high-contact locations, disinfect and provide reasonable accommodation to any person unable to wear a mask into a store by either providing online or telephone ordering, noncontact curbside pickup or delivery options.

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Last week, Cleveland broke at least two single-day cases of the outbreak. On Monday there were 195 confirmed coronavirus cases, and the following day there were an additional 314 confirmed cases, bringing those totals to 509.

Worse, Cuyahoga County officials, where Cleveland is, were bracing for 1,000 to 2,000 daily cases.

“We’ve asked you, we’ve begged you to wear a mask,” Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said last week. “We’re in the fight of our lives.”

He urged residents to avoid social gatherings on Thanksgiving and beyond to avoid a full shutdown that would hurt the economy and send the state's unemployment numbers skyrocketing.

“Stay away from gatherings,” he said. “Let’s take the long view.”