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COVID-19 levels are now high across Northeast Ohio, CDC says

 Community levels of COVID-19 have again reached high levels (in red) in many counties across the state, according to the CDC. [ The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
Community levels of COVID-19 have again reached high levels (in red) in many counties across the state, according to the CDC.

COVID-19 community levels have once again reached high or medium levels in counties across Northeast Ohio, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

"In Summit County, our COVID numbers have been up," said Health Commissioner Donna Skoda. "We're seeing this sort of sustained increase."

The high rating, which now affects Cuyahoga, Erie, Huron, Lorain, Mahoning, Portage and Trumbull counties, takes into account number of new cases and hospitalizations per 100,000 people and the percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, the CDC said.

In areas where community levels are high, the CDC recommends that people mask in public places, make sure they're up-to-date on vaccines and get tested if they have symptoms. People who are at high risk for severe symptoms may want to take additional precautions.

Officials in Cuyahoga County announced Friday that masks would be required in county buildings regardless of a person's vaccination status, according to a media release.

Community levels have risen to the medium level in Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Medina and Summit counties, the data show. Carroll and Holmes Stark and Wayne counties are among a handful of counties statewide that remain in the low category.

Statewide, the weekly number of new cases rose in July from 24,465 in the middle of the month to 29,876 in the week ending Thursday, according to Ohio Department of Health (ODH) figures.

Skoda said she doesn't believe those numbers reflect the actual number of cases out there.

"We know that it's greatly underreported because people don't even test because they feel like they have a summer cold or just their allergies," she said.

Those kinds of mild symptoms are typical for the new omicron subvariant that health officials say is fueling the current uptick in cases across the country. ODH figures show that as of July 16, BA.5 was responsible for almost 66% of all new COVID-19 infections.

"There is a lot of BA.5 circulating," Skoda said. "It's very contagious and therefore folks are getting it."

This version of the virus is adept at eluding the body's immune system, even in people who have been vaccinated or infected before. But the variant seems less likely to attack the lungs and the body still retains some protection so fewer people are being hospitalized with serious complications compared to those infected with earlier variants, said Dr. Keith Armitage, medical director of the Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health at University Hospitals.

Hospitalizations have crept up slightly amidst the BA.5 wave, ODH data show. The number of people newly hospitalized with COVID-19 in the seven-day period ending July 14 was 550. In the week ending Thursday, 705 people were admitted to the state's hospitals with the virus.

That tracks with what Summit County officials are seeing, Skoda said.

"Now in regards to hospitalizations and bed utilization, it's ticking up a little bit," she said. "The more people that have COVID, you're going to get people that are going to get sicker."

Although for most people, symptoms of a BA.5 infection are mild, the spread is undesirable because it can lead to new mutations, Skoda said.

"The more people that get it, the more chance there is for it to continue to mutate and then continue to spread," she said.

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