Ohio health officials on Thursday cautioned against too much optimism that Ohio has reached its peak of the current omicron variant wave of COVID-19 cases.
Although numbers in Northeast Ohio are starting to come down, the situation at hospitals is still challenging enough that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending help to Akron's Summa Health.
"Thankfully, we are seeing many signs of improvements in many of Ohio's hardest-hit areas," Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff said. "But the reality is that many other parts of the state are still on the rise of this omicron tidal wave.”
Ohio has seen improvements in COVID-19 hospitalization numbers after breaking daily records multiple times earlier this month. Since a week ago, the number of Ohioans currently in the hospital with COVID-19 has been on a steady decline.
Northeast Ohio, the hardest hit, has seen the steepest declines with about a 24% drop over the last 10 days. As of Wednesday, 5,889 Ohioans were in hospitals with the virus.
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In the Akron area, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID has been steadily dropping from an all-time record high two weeks ago to numbers not seen since about Thanksgiving.
On Thursday, Akron's four hospital systems were reporting a total of 234 patients with COVID. That was down from 263 on Wednesday and an all-time high of 399 on Jan. 6. Thursday's number was the lowest since Nov. 26 when the number was 212.
On Thursday, there were 88 at Summa's Akron City and Barberton hospitals (down from 100 Wednesday), 115 at Cleveland Clinic Akron General (129), 20 at Western Reserve Hospital (24) and 11 at Akron Children's Hospital (10).
Ohio health experts have predicted the current wave of the more contagious omicron variant would slowly trend down in Ohio toward the end of January.
However, the situation is still dire, Vanderhoff said. Hospitalization and COVID-19 levels are still above the previous winter surge when vaccines were only just becoming available. Ohio is still getting north of 20,000 positive COVID-19 tests every day.
On Thursday, 21,664 new cases were reported statewide, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
And other regions of the state are seeing increases. Southwest Ohio saw a 14% increase and western Ohio saw a 13% increase in COVID-19 ICU admissions over the prior week.
“Things continue in our Dayton area to be very critical," said Roberto Colon, chief medical officer of Miami Valley Hospital. "The pace of new cases has not yet slowed down like we have seen in other areas…it is tremendously taxing to our staff.”
More than 2,000 Ohio National Guard members are still deployed to help hospitals understaffed and overwhelmed by COVID-19. They will soon be shifted to other areas of the state, said Major General John C. Harris, Jr., head of the Ohio National Guard, with 400 moving from Northeast Ohio to the Dayton and Cincinnati area.
Assistance from the federal level has arrived and more is coming. President Joe Biden sent 20 Air Force medical professionals to Cleveland Clinic. Details have yet to come on the Federal Emergency Management Agency sending a team to help Summa Health in Akron.
Summa spokeswoman Shannon Kew on Thursday afternoon said the health system was aware FEMA was sending workers but had no other details.
Testing demand has decreased in Northeast Ohio as the situation improves slightly. But statewide and nationwide, the demand is causing strain on supplying COVID-19 tests.
This month, Ohio ordered 1.2 million testing kits, but only a fraction has been delivered, said Vanderhoff. Once shipments arrive, 400,000 testing kits can be distributed with priority going to schools.
“It's likely that the state's ability to provide tests could be intermittently affected," Vanderhoff said.
Akron Beacon Journal reporter Betty Lin-Fisher contributed to this report. Titus Wu is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: COVID-19 situation improving in northeast Ohio, say health officials