Mike DeWine Dec 29 presser

Gov. Mike DeWine during a Dec. 29 press conference.

COLUMBUS — Public health officials are urging Ohioans to get vaccinated and mask up indoors in response to a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

"We're looking at an impact of COVID-19 that is unlike anything we’ve seen before in this pandemic," said Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday there were more people hospitalized with COVID-19 now than at any other point during the pandemic. As a result, the Ohio National Guard is deploying its members to work in hospitals across the state, including OhioHealth's Mansfield facility

The northern parts of Ohio have been particularly hard hit by the Omicron variant, especially the greater Cleveland area, where one in three hospital patients are COVID-19 positive.

Robert Wylie, chief medical operations officer for the Cleveland Clinic, shared that on Wednesday, there were over one thousand hospital patients with active COVID-19 at the Cleveland Clinic — a pandemic record.

There are also record numbers of their workforce out sick with COVID-19. Wylie said as of this morning, over 2,700 workers were out sick, the highest number of people out since the pandemic began. 

The statewide COVID-19 positivity rate is 25 percent, according to Ohio Department of Health data. 

Health officials pleaded with Ohioans to do what they can to slow the spread of the virus, including wearing masks, getting vaccinated and boosted, and staying home when they feel ill.

"Even a well-protected, vaccinated person might develop some mild to moderate illness from COVID-19," Vanderhoff said. "While for them, it will probably be like getting a cold, they can spread the virus.

"This is much too infectious a virus for any of us to take chances with what we think might just be a little cold or a touch of the sniffles," he added. "If you aren't feeling well, stay home."

DeWine also urged school boards and administrators to reinstate mask mandates, echoing recommendations from hospitals across the state.

The Ohio Hospital Association and Ohio Children's Hospital Association issued a joint letter Tuesday asking school districts to reinstate mask requirements.

"Our healthcare system already is taxed, with one out of every four patients in the hospital with COVID-19," the letter states. "We’re fighting hard to save their lives, while treating other Ohioans who need our help, like children with broken bones, people suffering from strokes, or those needing emergency care after a car accident.

"We can’t do this alone. With Omicron spreading quickly through Ohio, we need everyone’s help to make it through the coming weeks."

Nevertheless, DeWine told reporters there is no plan to mandate masks again at the state level.

"We don't have practical ability to really put on a statewide mask order at this point," he said. "I don't think it's appropriate at this point. We have the vaccine, we have the tools.”

Vanderhoff said that Omicron's toll on state's hospitals is largely due to the fact that it is much more contagious than previous variants.

In fact, preliminary data indicates that infections from the Omicron variant may be less severe than previous strains of COVID-19.

“The proportion of people who get sick enough to end up in the hospital with Omicron does appear to be lower," he said. "But when that denominator, that number of people who are actually impacted gets to be so large, it's inevitable that you're going to see an absolute number of people in the hospital grow.

"As contagious as it is, the good news is it's already demonstrating that it is less likely to cause severe illness than some of the variants that preceded it.”

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie@richlandsource.com