COVID spread remains high, flu increases following holidays

Health, Aging directors urge more Ohioans to get updated COVID-19 booster.

Over half of the counties in the Dayton region are at a high level of COVID-19 spread and flu-related hospitalizations increased state-wide slightly a week after the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Montgomery, Greene, Preble, Clark, Champaign, and Darke counties are all continuing to see a high level of COVID spread, while Miami, Butler, and Warren counties are at a medium level of spread.

“We’re still seeing an average of 200 plus cases a week for COVID,” said Laurie Fox, public information officer at Greene County Public Health. “Flu is here. COVID is here. RSV is here.”

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The state added 13,895 weekly cases on Thursday and 13,047 on Dec. 29, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Prior to Dec. 29, Ohio recorded more than 16,000 coronavirus cases for four consecutive weeks.

Ohio reported 709 coronavirus hospitalizations in the past week. It’s the sixth-straight week the state had more 600 hospitalizations, but the first time since July 28 it surpassed 700 weekly hospitalizations.

While COVID-related hospitalizations have been going up, there were fewer COVID patients in the ICU this week. As of Friday, there were 135 hospitalized patients, or 1 in 17, who were positive for COVID-19, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. This was a 10% increase over the last seven days and an increase of 61% over the past 60 days. There were 11 COVID patients in the ICU, which was a decrease of 35% over the past seven days and a decrease of 8% over the past 60 days.

Flu hospitalizations see small increase

Hospitals across Ohio had 882 flu-related hospitalizations in its latest report, which was a 2.8% increase from the previous week, according to ODH. This increase brought the total number of flu hospitalizations Ohio has seen this season to 7,152.

Even with a small increase in weekly flu-related hospitalizations, flu-like illnesses reported at outpatient facilities were at 6.8%, which was a decrease of 21.18%. This is the fifth week of decreases in that category.

Montgomery County is seeing approximately 10% of flu-related hospitalizations in the state, second to Cuyahoga County, which is seeing 12.6% of flu-related hospitalizations.

While Montgomery County is seeing the majority of flu-like hospitalizations in the region, Clark County is seeing a higher rate. Clark County is seeing a rate of 147.06 flu-related hospitalizations per 100,000 individuals compared to a rate of 134.19 hospitalizations per 100,000 individuals.

“The first wave of the season has crested and is starting to fall. We are still higher than the three year average,” said Jordan Luttrell-Freeman, senior epidemiologist with the Butler County General Health District. Based on the flu season Australia documented, Luttrell-Freeman said there may be another wave of flu hitting the region in the next few weeks or February.

“We highly recommend the promotion of the flu vaccine, which preliminary findings suggest remain a good match. Increased ventilation in closed spaces and appropriate masking can help us fend off the potential second wave,” Luttrell-Freeman said.

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Booster shots urged

Health officials are urging Ohioans to get vaccinated with the updated COVID-19 booster shot, particularly as they are seeing new variants in circulation. The nation is now seeing a rise in a new, highly contagious variant known as XBB.1.5, according to ODH.

In Montgomery County, those aged 60 years and up represent 22% of the COVID cases, but they represent 84% of the deaths. Long-term care facility deaths also represent 27% of COVID-19 deaths of Montgomery County residents.

Statewide, ODH data shows that almost four out of five, or 79%, of Ohioans who have died of COVID have been 65 and older. While 86.9% of that population is fully vaccinated, only 38% have the maximum protection of an updated booster.

“Based on the numbers, we have not given ourselves every advantage that we could,” ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said. “Many of these deaths are, sadly, preventable.”

Dr. Becky Thomas, medical director for Public Health - Dayton and Montgomery County, said the protection from early vaccinations wears off, so older individuals should take advantage of the booster shots.

“Age is the strongest risk factor for severe COVID outcomes,” Thomas said.

Health departments have been working with nursing homes, along with some pharmacies, to keep those residents up to date on their vaccinations. Those in nursing homes are often older and immunocompromised, and with the prolonged time spent indoors in shared spaces, there is the potential for the virus to spread among individuals vulnerable to severe illness.

“It’s a risky time for seniors,” Thomas said.

Ohio Department of Aging Director Ursel J. McElroy also urged Ohioans, particularly older individuals, to get their updated booster shots to reduce their risk for a serious outcome.

“We know that the number of cases in our communities can accelerate very quickly, especially during the winter months when people are mostly gathering indoors,” McElroy said. “All of the data that we have today shows that the people most severely affected by COVID-19 continue to be older Ohioans. The data also shows that being fully vaccinated with the updated booster reduces your risk for a serious outcome.”

The Ohio Department of Aging can also provide information about the vaccine and how to access it, McElroy said. Older Ohioans or their caregivers seeking more information about vaccination can call 1-866-243-5678 to connect to the local Area Agency on Aging serving their community.

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Vaccinations encouraged amid fatigue

Public health officials recognized there may be some vaccine fatigue contributing to the slow uptake of the COVID-19 boosters. Greene County is seeing less individuals come in seeking booster shots, leading to Greene County Public Health reducing its vaccine clinics to Friday afternoons.

“We truly know that people are tired about hearing about vaccines,” Fox said, adding that vaccines are what doctors and epidemiologists know to be working. “If you have a medical professional that you trust, talk to them.”

Family members and loved ones can also get vaccinated and stay up to date on booster shots to help protect vulnerable loved ones.

“At the start of each new year, many of us resolve to take steps to improve our health, so I hope that more Ohioans will consider getting vaccinated or boosted,” Vanderhoff said. “That clearly is the safest, most reliable way you can reduce your risk of serious illness, hospitalization or even death as a result of the COVID-19 virus.”

Ohioans can search for locations offering the COVID-19 vaccine at gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov.