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'It's just a sad, sad situation' | Number of Ohioans under 50 hospitalized with COVID-19 reaches new high, DeWine says

On Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 6,814 new cases of COVID-19, 459 new hospitalizations and 125 additional deaths.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The number of Ohioans 50 and younger winding up in the hospital with COVID-19 has jumped over the last two months, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday.

"The bottom line is that we’re seeing our highest levels ever of hospitalizations among those under 50 years old. The clear difference between these younger Ohioans and older Ohioans is the rate of vaccination," he said during a coronavirus press briefing.

DeWine was joined by Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff as well as Dr. Alan Rivera with the Fulton County Health Center among other medical professionals dealing with the pandemic. All painted a similar picture of overwhelmed facilities with patients who are younger and generally sicker than seen in the pandemic's earlier stages.

Here is a breakdown of what was discussed.

COVID-19 DATA

On Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Health reported:

  • 6,814 new cases of coronavirus, compared to the 21-day average of 6,572
  • 459 new hospitalizations, compared to the 21-day average of 233
  • 47 new ICU admissions, compared to the 21-day average of 21
  • 125 new coronavirus-related deaths, compared to the 21-day average of 35
Credit: Ohio Department of Health

DeWine noted that Tuesday's 459 newly reported hospitalizations mark the highest 24-hour jump since January. He also said that more and more of Ohio's younger population are being admitted to the hospital with COVID-19.

During the week of Sept. 5, 239 people aged 39 and younger were hospitalized with the virus, a stark difference from the 32 documented during the week of July 4.

The current surge is being largely attributed to the highly contagious delta variant. 

Terri Alexander, a nurse with Summa Health in Akron, said that right away her team could tell they were dealing with something different as delta started to gain prominence. She said patients were coming in sicker and staying sick longer. 

"It's just a sad, sad situation that we're dealing with and I think everyone here is just emotionally exhausted," she said.

The solution, DeWine said, is to get more people vaccinated, as younger Ohioans are getting vaccinated at a lower rate than those over the age of 50. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff jumped in on that point, saying that those who are unvaccinated are putting themselves at a greater risk of infection.

"If you are young and unvaccinated it's now probably only a question of when, not if, you get COVID-19. When you get COVID-19 without the protection of a vaccine, there is a very real risk you'll end up in the hospital or the obituary pages," Vanderhoff said.

Though many young adults are opting out of vaccination, the next phase could soon be on its way.

On Monday, Pfizer representatives said a recent trial found the company's COVID-19 vaccine to be effective in children ages 5-11. They are expected to petition for emergency use authorization from the FDA in the near future.

As the vaccine is expected to become available in the coming months for Ohio's youngest population, DeWine said his team is considering more vaccine incentives, though he did not elaborate on what those may look like. 

NORTHWEST OHIO

Dr. Alan Rivera with the Fulton County Health Center joined in on Tuesday's briefing, saying the rural county is in a "crisis mode."

A major part of that, he said, is a staffing shortage. 

Rivera said staffing in Fulton County is down about 50% compared to this time last year. Many nurses are leaving the industry or are retiring early as shifts become longer and the ongoing pandemic has put an emotional strain on those who do stick around, he told the governor.

At the same time staff is dwindling, case numbers are on the rise. 

Rivera explained this combination has a ripple effect that impacts everyone, including those who go to the hospital with non-COVID issues.

For example, all Lucas County hospitals went on bypass at the same time last week, leading some patients from the area to be sent to Fulton County. However, the health center didn't have adequate beds because there were not enough staff to take care of those patients. Patients were then boarded into the emergency department and staying for two to three days, but the department is only equipped with 15 beds.

A big problem is that with COVID patients, they are staying for longer periods of time - often from two to three weeks. But when the hospital has an admission or two being added on every day, it doesn't give them the capability to then deal with patients coming in with acute appendicitis or heart failure.

Rivera detailed a situation he dealt with last week, in which a patient came in with renal failure. The small, rural health center does not have a nephrologist on staff. However, with all area hospitals full, there was no place to send them. As they worked to manage the patient's condition and continued to search, the situation got dire and the patient ultimately chose the route of Hospice care as they realized there was no way they would be able to get to a nephrologist.

"We are doing best we can, but we are crying for help from the community; help us help you by getting vaccinated," he said.

Rivera said the best way to help these hospitals that are overwhelmed is to practice prevention.

"We need people who could potentially not require hospitalization to get vaccinated. Vaccination is the best prevention we have against further hospitalization," he said. 

The majority of the patients with COVID-19 in the Fulton County Health Center, Rivera said, are unvaccinated.