CINCINNATI — Local health leaders sent a message emphasizing that COVID-19 remains active in the community. The need to exercise caution is crucial heading into the colder months as the region looks to avoid another "terrifying" winter.

What You Need To Know

  • Local health officials are emphasizing the importance of vaccination and masking heading into the holiday season

  • A Cincinnati Children's rep called last December-January "terrifying" and hopes increased availability of vaccines will help

  • The holiday season present difficult decisions for many families that are not vaccinated or immunocompromised

  • The vaccine was recently made available to children 5 to 11 and there is more booster availability as well

As of Wednesday, Hamilton County’s rate of infection is 165 cases for every 100,000 people. The county’s health commissioner, Greg Kesterman said 85% of those hospitalized in the region have not been vaccinated.

Kesterman joined Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus for a virtual briefing on the local status of COVID-19. Topics ranged from boosters and vaccines for young children to staying safe during the colder holidays ahead.

Other panelists included Dr. Patricia Manning-Courtney, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Mari Phillips, associate superintendent of the Princeton City School District. Phillips spoke to the role educators can play in informing students and parents about the importance of vaccination and continuing to mask up, especially while in public indoor places.

About 64% of eligible Hamilton County residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine. The county has a goal of 80%.

"I think we're optimistic about more people getting vaccines, especially kids, but we still need to be vigilant,” Driehaus said. "People are getting COVID. We've got plenty of spread in our community still and we need to be careful.”

There's been an uptick in cases over the past few weeks. The group expects to see the trend continue upward as we move into the holiday season. As temperatures dip across the region, people are spending more time indoors.

Manning-Courtney said it's vital that people get vaccinated so that if they do catch COVID-19, they won't need to be hospitalized. She said the region's hospitals remain incredibly busy in general and need a buffer.

She said the system can't endure the stresses it saw last winter.

"Last December and January were terrifying. They were really frightening times and we didn't see where it was going to end," Manning-Courtney said. "My hope this winter season is that even though we're going to see an uptick because everybody's moving inside, we're already seeing that, that it won't be to the level that it was last winter."

"We really can't do that again, as a health care system and as a region," she added. "It's all the more reason to get vaccinated so that you keep that peak down and that we don't live through what we lived through last winter."

Kesterman said families will have to make decisions again this holiday season. He plans on Thanksgiving to get together with extended family all of whom are vaccinated, including all age-eligible children.

"We know COVID is not going to disappear tomorrow or when the ball drops on Dec. 31 at midnight and we turn to 2022. COVID will still be with us and we'll continue to have to make those decisions until we have more scientific opportunities to squash this disease," he said.

Children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible for the vaccine. Ohio Department of Health data show about 7,800 Hamilton County children in that age group, or about 10.9% of that population, have received a first dose vaccine in the first two weeks it's been available. About 2,600 kids of those took place at Cincinnati Children's, Manning-Courtney said.

"We did have some lines early on, but I think a lot of our systems have improved," she added.

Manning-Courtney said a vaccine for children, who are not eligible, may not be available until midway through 2022.

Kesterman continued to stress the importance of vaccination and mentioned that boosters are now widely available across the region to those who are eligible.

As of last week, providers in Ohio had administered more than 1 million COVID-19 booster vaccine doses, reaching the milestone less than three weeks after the federal government expanded booster eligibility.