Ohio outlines plans to fight monkeypox, says COVID surge 'leveled off'

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Monkeypox cases in Ohio remain low, but access to the two-dose vaccine is a concern, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The department outlined its monkeypox strategy on Thursday, including a data dashboard on cases in Ohio to come "very soon."

Monkeypox cases remain low in Ohio compared to the rest of the nation. As of Wednesday, there were 75 cases in the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most cases nationally and in Ohio have been in metro areas and among men who have sex with men, but most are recovering without medication, said ODH Director Bruce Vanderhoff.

The disease is spread mostly through direct contact, he said.

"While the risk of contracting monkeypox remains low, it's important we do all we can … to reduce the burden of illness," he said.

Vanderhoff said his department has "actively worked" with local providers to offer testing, tracing and treatment options. ODH is working with local partners to reach higher-risk populations and send health alerts to doctors through licensing boards and associations on how to report a case, handle specimens, etc.

The department considers it "very important to keep the public informed about this outbreak," Vanderhoff said.

Vaccines, however, have been hard to come by in Ohio. Vanderhoff said that's more a reflection of the extremely limited supply of JYNNEOS, the two-dose vaccine taken about a month apart. Ohio received lower doses than other states due to not having many cases, but is advocating to get as much vaccine as possible, he added.

Around 17,800 doses of JYNNEOS have been allocated for Ohio by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As of Wednesday afternoon, almost 9,700 had been shipped. Vanderhoff said the state received about 4,250 doses so far, with 5,440 doses coming this week. Potentially more will come down the line, up to 13,560 doses, he said.

More:Columbus hosts its first monkeypox vaccination clinic, more doses expected in coming weeks

That is "not enough supply to vaccinate (all) at-risk Ohioans," said the director. With that in mind, strategy now is get supply out as quickly as possible to Ohio communities with highest case counts and highest risk of spread - namely Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.

Ohio is also recommending medical providers follow federal recommendation splitting each dose into five doses to ensure more availability.

For those who have taken the vaccine, maximum protection comes two weeks after the second dose, said Joseph Gastaldo, infectious disease specialist at OhioHealth. But "no vaccine is 100 percent," he cautioned, with medication available for severe cases.

COVID-19 cases stable in Ohio

On the COVID-19 front, the number of newly reported cases during the last three weeks have hovered between 26,000 and 30,000 per week, though numbers are likely higher given the prevalence of at-home testing. Hospitalizations have been on a slow, upward trend, with 1,309 patients in Ohio hospitals as of Wednesday, though the situation is nowhere as severe as the last few winter surges.

As of last week, the CDC reported all but 21 counties in the state with high levels of COVID-19 transmission, meaning mask wearing indoors is recommended. Only around 59% of Ohioans have been fully vaccinated, per ODH data.

But "the modest surge of cases recently caused by ... omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 may have hit its peak or at least leveled off," said Vanderhoff, saying it shows that vaccines have worked.

While cases rose this summer, the number in Ohio requiring oxygen or intensive care stayed very low, though the health department is keeping an eye on future trends. A new variant-specific booster is coming, but Vanderhoff still recommended vaccination as soon as possible.

With the upcoming school year, the department is also no longer recommending its "mask to stay, test to play" guidance, which students exposed to COVID-19 could continue going to school as long as they're masked and are tested if showing symptoms. But Vanderhoff says the CDC is likely to update back-to-school guidance very soon, meaning the state's guidance could change.

The new guidance now? Don't send your child to school if they feel sick.

Vanderhoff said students should stay home for five days if they are ill and test positive for COVID-19.

He also encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated with routine immunizations, noting the lagging rates over the past few years. He attributed the trend to complacency, the pandemic, skepticism and other factors.

"We really encourage people to get the entire battery of vaccines. We know there's a lot but it's the right thing to do," said Dr. Michael Forbes, chief academic officer and chair of pediatrics for Akron Children's Hospital.

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 The Columbus Dispatch: ODH says access to monkeypox vaccine a concern; coronavirus levels off