Ohio entering new phase as COVID approaches endemic status

As COVID-19 continues to decline in Ohio, the state is looking at the next phase and its impact.

“As the days and weeks pass it becomes increasingly clear that not only are we leaving the omicron surge behind us but we’re entering a new phase,” Ohio Department of Heath Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said.

The variant, which is more contagious but less likely to result in serious illness, has helped push COVID closer to an endemic rather than a pandemic.

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“When we’re talking about an endemic illness we’re talking about something that is part of our landscape, something as a population that we have to live with,” Vanderhoff said. “When we’re dealing with a pandemic, what we’re talking about is an illness that is new on the scene that is causing a lot of illness to people all at once and our tools to deal with it are limited.”

Compared to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio has multiple tools to monitor to battle the virus, including coronavirus therapeutics and treatments, and the vaccine.

Though the virus is on the decline, Vanderhoff noted the last two years a spring and summer lull was followed by a surge.

“Knowing the COVID-19 community level in your area can help your community and you as an individual identify prudent preventative measures in light of our own health situation,” he said.

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Frederic Bertley, president and CEO of COSI, likened the vaccine as a personal trainer for your immune system.

“The vaccine takes your immune response that you already have and beefs it up,” he said.

While initially some people may have been hesitant about getting the COVID vaccine, Bertley noted approximately nine billion doses have been administered worldwide without a large number of adverse effects being reported.

“People think it was rushed, but it’s based on technology that’s been around for a long time,” he said.

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As part of this new stage, the state health department will stop updating its COVID-19 dashboards on a daily basis and instead release new data on a weekly basis.

New and cumulative cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and vaccinations will be updated on Thursdays starting March 17. Death data, which is updated twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays, will be updated once a week on Thursdays.

Data regarding long-term care facilities, as well as reports from other agencies, will also be published on Thursdays.

“One reasons for this shift is to better align Ohio with the new benchmarks by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Vanderhoff said.

The CDC has shifted it’s focus from daily cases to the severity of the illness, he said.

The state will continue to closely monitor COVID activity and identify pockets of the virus so they can work with local health departments to prevent COVID from spreading.

Under the recently updated CDC standards, Ohio has 61 counties with a low community risk, 17 with a medium risk and 10 with a high risk, Vanderhoff said.

“Knowing the COVID-19 community level in your area can help your community and you as an individual identify prudent preventative measures in light of our own health situation,” he said.

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The CDC still recommends communities with a high COVID risk to continue wearing face masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Vanderhoff also noted there are people who at an increased risk who still may want to wear high-grade masks even if they are in a low-risk community.

Though the virus is on the decline, Vanderhoff noted the last two years a spring and summer lull was followed by a surge.

“Perhaps this time will prove different, but let’s not rely on that,” he said. “This time we have more tools than ever to get us prepared for whatever COVID-19 might have waiting for us around the corner.”

Ohioans have multiple tools to fight the virus, including coronavirus therapeutics and treatments, and, of course, the vaccine.

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