Flu cases increase in Northeast Ohio, as COVID-19 remains a threat

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As the early flu season continues to strike more people, COVID-19 hospitalizations are also on the rise and health experts are asking people to get vaccinated and consider wearing masks in public places as a precaution against both diseases.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said in a news conference Monday there is still time to get a flu vaccine before the season is in full swing.

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"Getting vaccinated is especially important for those at higher risk of severe flu illness, including those who are younger than 5 years old, those who are older than 65, pregnant people and people who have certain underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for severe and serious flu consequences."

She said COVID-19 cases are also increasing nationwide.

“In the past week we have started to see the unfortunate and expected rise of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationally after the Thanksgiving holiday," she added. "This rise in cases and hospitalizations is especially worrisome as we move into the winter months, when more people are assembling indoors with less ventilation, and as we approach the holiday season where many are gathering with loved ones across multiple generations."

Flu increasing in Medina, Stark, Summit and Portage counties

Coming about a month earlier than normal, the seasonal increase in flu has sharply increased since the beginning of October in Medina, Stark, Summit and Portage counties.

In Summit County, with a population of around 550,000, the number of people hospitalized with flu nearly tripled in three weeks. The county health department's latest influenza surveillance report shows 91 people were hospitalized with the flu the week ending Dec. 3, up from 64 the week before and 34 the week before that.

Stark County, with a population of 370,000, had 70 flu hospitalizations as of early December, according to the Ohio Department of Health. That's up from around 30 between Nov. 20 and 26, when the Canton City Board of Health’s influenza tracker reported the number of flu cases in the city tripled in one week from 63 to 185.

Medina County, 124,000 residents, reported only three hospitalizations in it's latest flu surveillance report. The Ohio Department of Heath reports there were 11 hospitalizations in Portage County, population 101,000, as of early December.

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue in Northeast Ohio

In addition to flu, Summit County's latest COVID-19 surveillance report shows Summit also leads the four-county area in the number of coronavirus hospitalizations, with around 70 new hospitalizations out of 660 new cases during the week ending Dec. 10.

According to ODH, there were 309 COVID-19 hospitalizations between Dec. 1-9 in Summit County. Summa Health said its Akron and Barberton hospitals accounted for about 81 total COVID-19 inpatients the week ending Dec. 3.

In Stark County, preliminary figures from ODH show 290 cases between Dec. 1-9, with six new hospitalizations.

For Medina County, there were about 200 new cases, with one hospitalization. In Portage County, there were 146 new cases, with 11 hospitalizations, according to ODH preliminary figures.

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Area hospitals and health departments report RSV infections remain low or are tapering off. Summa Health reports only seven hospitalizations in its Summit County facilities.

“We have seen signs that RSV may have peaked in some areas like the South and Southeast, and may be leveling off in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwest," Walensky said Monday. "While this is encouraging, respiratory viruses continue to spread at high levels nationwide, and even in areas where RSV may be decreasing, our hospital systems continue to be stretched with high numbers of patients with other respiratory illness."

Dr. Walensky urges getting vaccinated, wearing masks to prevent spread

Walensky recommended three steps to take to avoid illness or spreading disease this winter, starting with getting up-to-date vaccines for COVID-19 and flu.

“They are safe, they're effective, and they can lower the risk of infection in general and especially lower the risk of severe illness and death,” she said. “Both the updated COVID-19 vaccines and this year's flu vaccines were formulated to protect against the viruses that are currently circulating right now.”

For those in counties with high community levels of COVID-19, the CDC recommends masking for anyone who uses public transportation, or for anyone who may be immunocompromised or increased risk of severe disease.

Finally, she said those who do get sick should see a medical provider as soon as possible.

“There are prescription antivirals to treat both flu and COVID-19, and these treatments are especially important for people who are at higher risk of complications and respiratory disease,” she said. “Talk to your health care provider as soon as you have symptoms so that these treatments can be started within the first few days of illness when they are most effective.”

Eric Marotta can be reached at emarotta@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarottaEric.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Flu, COVID-19 cases increase after Thanksgiving in northeast Ohio