Health care professionals made a plea for help during Gov. Mike DeWine's coronavirus briefing Thursday, saying the surge of COVID-19 cases has them strapped for staff and space.
Erin Russo, director of clinical education for Memorial Health in Marysville, said while they have been able to acquire equipment and supplies to fight COVID-19, “what we can’t manufacture are staff members that are skilled enough to care for those patients.”
DeWine announced that Franklin County had risen to the highest level of severity on Ohio's Public Health Advisory System after reporting a sustained rise in cases and hospital admissions. Three other counties – Lake, Lorain and Montgomery – are on a watch list, and could be escalated as soon as next week.
The governor emphasized that the worsening pandemic is severely impacting health care systems and frontline workers.
"Endurance is finite," Russo said. "Our most unsettling fear is the fact that we could have the threat of patient care compromised in some way."
Russo said early in the pandemic, fighting the coronavirus was likened to running a marathon, but the situation has worsened in recent weeks.
“I would escalate that to that of the Iditarod,” Russo said, referring to the Alaskan sled dog race that covers some 1,000 miles over a period of two weeks or more. “The dogs are tired.”
Russo was joined by Ohio Health vice president Cheryl Herbert and Bruce White, CEO of Knox Community Hospital in Mt. Vernon.
Herbert shared a story that she says indicates how the surge of COVID-19 cases has repercussions for all health care. A 48-year old Ohio woman who had a heart attack two days ago received care at the rural hospital near her home, but to get the advanced care necessary after her treatment, it took calls to 14 hospitals to find an available bed.
“We need community support right now,” Herbert said. “We do not want to repeat her story.”
Hospital leaders say that support comes in the form of precautions that state and local leaders are asking people to take: when possible, wearing masks when going out, staying physically distanced from others, washing hands frequently and thoroughly.
“They seem like minuscule tasks,” said Russo, “but to us they could make the greatest difference.”
The Ohio Department of Health reported that COVID-19 cases increased by 7,787 on Thursday, but DeWine warned “that number we’re reporting will be appreciably higher than that."
DeWine said the health department has put an asterisk on case numbers because it started taking a more careful look at rapid antigen COVID-19 tests, whose accuracy and reliability has been questioned. He said health officials have begun double-checking those, so another 12,000 tests have not yet been factored into this week's case totals.
In the last week, the number of antigen tests being done in Ohio has increased to an average of 10,000 per day.
“We just can’t clear these cases fast enough,” DeWine said.
DeWine said the majority of those cases are likely to be confirmed as positive results.
Regardless of the case numbers, DeWine said the number of hospitalizations confirms the surge that’s happening. Ohio hospitals admitted 343 coronavirus patients in the last 24 hours, and eight out of 10 of the highest hospitalization days have occurred in the last 10 days, including today.
There are currently 3,829 Ohioans hospitalized with COVID-19 and 943 people in Intensive Care Units.
“These are the highest patient counts we’ve had in this pandemic and more than double what we’ve seen in previous peaks,” DeWine said.
A three-week curfew imposed by the governor begins Thursday night. It calls for people to be off the streets and most stores to close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
DeWine says the state's new retail compliance unit, which has been spot-checking stores to check if people are wearing masks, has visited about half the counties in the state.
"They are finding about 90% compliance," DeWine said. "We are exceedingly happy with that."