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Northeast Ohio counties lead the nation in COVID-19 infection rates newly released data show

The pandemic is hitting many Northeast Ohio counties particularly hard right now. Cuyahoga County is among the top counties national for per capita cases. The question is why?

Cuyahoga County is being hit hard as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens across the country and it ranks second in the nation for the numbers of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, according to new data from the New York Times.

Lake County is also among the top ten in the nation for COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, according to the New York Times coronavirus tracker.

Cuyahoga County ranks second in the nation with a rate of 236 cases per 100,000 people – that’s an increase of 215% over the last 14-days, according to the tracker.  Lake County has 152 cases per 100,000 people, an 82% increase over that same time period.

Cuyahoga County is fourth in the nation in the average daily number of infections, trailing counties with much larger cities than Cleveland, including New York, Los Angeles, and Cook County, Illinois, home to Chicago.

The question is, why is this happening here?

"One explanation of why Cuyahoga County is so high right now is that it just happened that we’re having our delta peak at the same time omicron came here," said Dr. Keith Armitage, infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals.

Delta hit different regions at different times. Southern states were hit hard by the delta variant in late summer and early fall, whereas Northeast Ohio just started seeing delta peak in the last month, he said. 

“No one understands why delta has peaked at different times in different regions," Armitage said. "Clearly, for the last month in our region, we’ve had a delta peak. Now, superimpose on that we’re having an omicron surge."

The weather in northern states could also be a factor because cold weather pushes people indoors where the virus spread is more prevalent, but there is a disagreement between experts on the role weather has played in this local COVID-19 surge. 

Dr. Armitage noted that it's been a fairly mild fall in Ohio so the weather may not be a factor. MetroHealth infectious disease specialist Dr. Amy Ray, however, said the weather combined with holiday gatherings is the perfect storm for virus spread.

“The cold weather forces people inside which likely increases exposure to others during their period of contagion, and the holidays bring families and loved ones close together for social events and gatherings for meals," Ray said in a written statement. 

The high rates of poverty in Cuyahoga County could also be a factor in higher COVID-19 numbers, Ray said. 

“Cuyahoga County is a large metropolitan area with high rates of poverty and population density," she said. "Eighteen percent of the residents are living in poverty as compared to Ohio as a whole (at) 14.5%."  

Within Ohio, nine out of the top 10 counties with the highest infection rates are in the northeast section of the state. Cuyahoga County leads the pack followed by Lake, Lorain, Summit, Portage, Medina, Ashtabula, Geauga, and Huron in descending order, the data shows.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158