Cases of COVID-19 increasing in Ohio

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Governor DeWine last week cautioned that the continuing increase in COVID-19 cases indicates that significant numbers of infections are likely this winter unless the public takes steps to mitigate and control the spread of the virus. 
        He urged the public to continue wearing masks, practice social distancing and washing their hands.
        "Although a vaccine is on the way in the future, we can't control the timetable of the development of a vaccine - but we can control how much this flares up until then," DeWine said at a news conference on Tuesday. "We have avoided the large outbreaks that other countries and other states have seen, and so far, the combined efforts of Ohioans have kept the virus in check. We can't let our guards down now. We need to continue taking basic safety measures of wearing masks, keeping distance, and avoiding large gatherings."
        In the last seven days, Ohio COVID-19 cases have averaged 1,475 new cases per day compared to an average of approximately 1,000 cases per day only two weeks ago, he said.
        “So we’ve gone up dramatically in several weeks,” said DeWine.
        As testing increases, “we would hope to see a drop in the positivity rate,” he said. “We’re not seeing that.”
        Ohio's current positivity rate is 4.1 percent as compared to 2.7 percent on September 23 and 24.
        “Again, these numbers have gone up dramatically,” he said.
        A total of 51 counties out of a total of 88 counties in the state are considered high incidence and/or Alert Level 3 on Ohio’s Public Health Advisory System. Most of the high incidence counties are in the western and southern parts of the state.
        “That’s a big concern,” he said.
        Lucas, Ottawa and Sandusky counties are not on the high incidence list. Wood County is listed as Level 2 Public Emergency– increased exposure and spread.
Will get worse
        “We can say things will get better. But in all likelihood, things are going to get worse before they get better. We’re already seeing that over the last several weeks. The virus is tough, it’s cunning, it will not give up. It has a mind of its own. All of the experts we’ve talked to for months have said, as more people move inside, that we’re going to see more spread.”
        He said the public has done a good job wearing masks, social distancing, and washing their hands.
        “If you compare us to other states and countries, we’re doing pretty well. What we’ve avoided is this huge spike of where we would see our hospitals overflowing. We’ve seen this coming out of Italy, New York, Texas, Florida, California, Mississippi, South and North Dakota,” he said.
        “We certainly have seen more cases than we want. But we’re doing well compared to other states and countries,” he said.
        The final death toll in the state, he said, will depend on how the public consistently practices social distancing, wears masks, and washes their hands.  It will also depend on a vaccine.
        “President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed is subsidizing clinical trials of companies working on a vaccine. We have every indication it’s working. As the New York Times reported, the operation is working with remarkable efficiency. It doesn’t mean there won’t be glitches or that it will be perfect. But it seems to be coming along. It will work,” said DeWine.
        DeWine also discussed plans for Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen screening tests that the federal government is providing to Ohio.
        Last week, Ohio deployed thousands of these screening tests to colleges and universities to help them implement proactive screening plans. This week, Ohio will begin sending tens of thousands of screening tests to nursing homes for both routine and outbreak testing requirements. 
        DeWine emphasized that lab-based PCR tests are still considered the “gold standard” test that provides the most accurate results, and antigen tests can have false positives and false negatives.
        "The opportunity to test more broadly and more often make this an important step forward in our fight against COVID-19 spread, even with the lower sensitivity and specificity of these tests," said DeWine. "We do have protocols to follow up on results that are most likely to be false, but we need to be aware that this is part of testing at this scale."  
        DeWine also cautioned that testing should not be considered a substitute for precautions such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings.  
        As of last Tuesday, there were 161,678 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Ohio and 5,017 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. A total of 16,565 people have been hospitalized, including 3,447 admissions to intensive care units. For more information on Ohio's response to COVID-19, call 1-833-4-ASK-ODH.


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