covid-19 screening

Photo of drive-through COVID-19 screening. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Ohio Capital Journal)

COLUMBUS -- Hospital rolls of COVID-19 patients soared to a record high Wednesday as a month-long surge in new cases has spilled over into Ohio’s hospitalization counts.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Department of Health reported there are nearly 1,100 Ohioans currently in the hospital with COVID-19, the respiratory and vascular disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The active patient load peaked in early May (when the state began reporting the data point) with about 1,050 people hospitalized. It then tumbled down to a low in late June before marching upward ever since.

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Despite the increase, the Centers for Disease Control website, last updated July 14, showed just 4.4 percent of hospital beds in Ohio are being used to treat COVID-19 patients.

“We’re at a tipping point,” Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday. “This thing could go either way. We have it within our control how bad the situation is going to get with our hospitals.”

DeWine said hospital administrators are telling him they have the capacity to handle the current load, but the “slow steady increase” is always a concern.

The hospitalization trend mirrors Ohio’s new caseload by 24-hour span, which swooped to a comparative low in early June before rocketing upward since then.

Data reported Wednesday shows another 1,527 Ohioans contracted COVID-19 and 128 people with the disease were admitted to the hospital since Tuesday.

In total, nearly 9,900 Ohioans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and 3,235 have died since March. Nearly 79,000 Ohioans have been infected, though the number is almost certainly an underestimation.

Research in the Journal of American Medicine published Tuesday shows the number of infections is about 10 times higher than official case counts, as evidenced by serology testing in 10 regions (which do not include Ohio).

To drive down the numbers, DeWine announced he would impose a statewide mask mandate effective at 6 p.m. Thursday. Scientists have published more and more research over the last several months finding that masks are an effective tool to decrease the spread of the virus, though not necessarily protecting the wearer.

DeWine cited “preliminary” data indicating the rate of increase in new cases has slowed in counties where masks are mandated, yielding some cautious optimism the policy could move the needle statewide.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Ohio Hospital Association praised DeWine’s decision.

“Our livelihood, economy and health care system all depend on the cooperation and support of everyone in wearing masks and practicing social distancing to reduce spread and exposure. We urge all Ohioans to follow the mandate and do their part to stop the spread of this disease," the OHA said.

Similarly, DeWine issued a travel advisory recommending anyone who visited nine Sun Belt states that have been particularly hard hit by the virus to quarantine.

Hospitalization data in this story was provided to the Ohio Department of Health from the Ohio Hospital Association, and preserved overtime by the COVID Tracking Project.

(This story was first published in the Ohio Capital Journal and is republished here with permission.)