COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Thursday, Ohio recorded 4,961 COVID-19 cases — a new record and the third consecutive day of more than 4,000 daily cases — which had not happened prior to Tuesday.
Gov. Mike DeWine said it is time to bring in "reinforcements," naming a new Director of the Ohio Department of Health, Stephanie McCloud, who will take over as the top official in the state’s coronavirus response amid the record surge.
The numbers for those most seriously ill have continued to rise this week. On Thursday, 218 new COVID-19 hospitalizations were reported, making for a total of 2,075 hospitalizations — a new record.
Dr. Mark Herbert, infections specialist at Mount Carmel Health, said with “startling” numbers of people testing positive this week there could be a critical situation for Ohio hospital resources in as soon as a couple weeks.
“It’s possible that next week, or the week after that, our hospitals will be at really critical shortage situations,” Herbert said. “Today’s numbers are people that are walking back to their homes and isolating themselves. But in a week or two they may be going to the emergency room and needing hospitalization. And we’re already in a tight hospital situation.”
In the state's latest county indicator map, which displays which counties are seeing accelerating spread, a record 56 counties are in the "red." The 13 counties that became red are Ashland, Champaign, Clinton, Coshocton, Fairfield, Jefferson, Holmes, Medina, Pickaway, Sandusky, Morrow, Preble, and Henry.
Our updated Advisory System Map shows that the virus continues to spread throughout all regions of Ohio. We now have 56 Red Alert Level 3 counties—the highest number of counties that are red since we started the alert system. pic.twitter.com/z9LaBeGjTu— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) November 5, 2020
Asked if he would implement new restrictions in response to the case surge, DeWine said contact tracing indicates the current outbreak is being driven by private gatherings.
"It's not being spread in the classroom," he said. "Most businesses are doing a good job, and require all employees to wear masks... So much of this is personal responsibility, and so much of this is areas where the government cannot really impact what people do."
Still, he teased that health orders could be coming soon, without specifying what those might be. "I will have other things coming shortly," he said.
Ohio had reported 4,071 new cases Wednesday, which was just slightly down from the 4,229 cases reported the day before, the daily record until it was broken again Thursday. The state’s seven-day new case average was 3,551.7 as of Wednesday.
Hospitalization numbers have risen rapidly. On Sept. 20, just 563 COVID-19 patients were being treated in Ohio hospitals. The numbers have more than tripled, which Herbert says is a major concern.
"The hospitals are quite busy. Some are going on diversion because they don’t have any beds that are available,” Herbert said. “There’s even been situations where hospitals have been shuttling ventilators back and forth to make sure they have adequate numbers.”
Hospitals can move around patients and ventilators, but at a certain point the resources will get fully strained if the outbreak continues to worsen, and with the current trends, "critical overflow procedures" involving non-standard hospital rooms may not be so far away, he says.
In ICUs, 541 COVID-19 patients were receiving care as of Thursday’s update, with 270 ventilators in-use.
In the last 24 hours, 33 new deaths were reported in Ohio, significantly more than the seven-day average for deaths as of yesterday, which was 24.6. On Wednesday, 55 deaths were reported; on Tuesday, 33.
Sara Paton, an epidemiology expert at Wright State University, said the new numbers continued to demonstrate that an uptick in deaths would follow the state's fall case surge.
Experts expected deaths to climb a few weeks after cases surged in the Midwest, said Paton, who oversees a COVID-19 contact-tracing initiative that pairs students with local health departments.
“Death is usually a lagging indicator. But we’ve got early signs that our deaths are starting to go up now. We’ve had a couple days of that, which will probably continue with the increased numbers,” she said.
Seven Midwest states: Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Indiana, were in the top 10 nationally Wednesday for most new cases.
Officials say cases are rising due to dropping temperatures that create dry environments where the virus can spread more easily. Meanwhile, officials are concerned that more people are moving indoors in the Midwest, citing social and family gatherings at private residences for the rising rates of spread.
In rural areas, where the virus has increasingly taken hold after hitting urban areas the hardest in the spring, officials say weak compliance with public health orders is contributing to outbreaks.
Given the current numbers, Herbert said visiting elderly family members in the next couple weeks makes no sense, and family Thanksgiving celebrations are looking increasingly unsafe.
With record COVID-19 numbers in the state, more and more Ohioans have friends, family, or coworkers who are sick. After getting swabbed at a free pop-up testing site in Columbus, Destry Blamer, said he started feeling achy the other day and with the numbers going up he is taking no chance, especially because he wants to keep his mom safe.
During the day, Blamer works at a car lot where two coworkers are positive, and at night does security at a bar, where another coworker is positive.
With record COVID-19 numbers in the state, more and more Ohioans have friends, family, or coworkers who are sick—Like Destry Blamer, who during the day works at a car lot where two coworkers are positive, and at night does security at a bar, where another coworker is positive. pic.twitter.com/B6ZlqYPIxZ— Pete Grieve (@pete_grieve) November 5, 2020
Sam Webb, a Circleville nurse, has been in quarantine since his wife, a school teacher, tested positive almost two weeks ago now, he said. She went back to work Thursday, facing pressure from the school despite only recovering yesterday. Webb has been asymptomatic but he wanted a test before returning to work himself.
"I'm not really surprised the numbers are escalating in Ohio because there seem to be no standards for quarantining, for when people should go back to work, or for testing before going back to work," he said. "In my mind, I thought it was a little bit soon [for her] to go back."
According to DeWine, the virus is spreading due to private gatherings. He said schools, businesses, and workplaces are for the most part getting it right.
The governor shared several examples Thursday from local health departments to illustrate how the virus is spreading.
A woman attended a wedding and passed the virus to her mother, who is a caregiver, and transmitted the virus to a couple in their 80s. A group of teachers attended a Halloween party with their “bubble,” but later mingled with a second party. Now more than 10 teachers are quarantined. And a group of college students hosted an Oct. 24 house party that high schoolers attended, resulting in at least five cases.