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Cuyahoga County COVID-19 cases are plummeting, but it's not time to toss that mask yet, experts say

Although cases are dropping in Cuyahoga County and across the state experts say its too soon to stop taking precautions against COVID-19. [Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock]
A woman wearing a mask shops removes an item from a store shelf.

The number of COVID-19 infections across Ohio is dropping — particularly in Cuyahoga County where cases have fallen off precipitously after peaking shortly after Christmas.

On Dec. 27, 3,068 new infections were reported in the county; on Tuesday, that number had dropped to just 45, Cuyahoga County Board data show.

It’s welcome news for residents concerned about infection and for health care workers stretched thin by the omicron surge. And there are some additional hopeful signs.

Some hospitals have begun to schedule non-essential surgeries and some of the Ohio National Guard members, who had been working in hospitals, have been sent home, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the director of Ohio Department of Health, during a press conference Thursday.

At the omicron peak, more than 2,000 National Guard members were deployed at 62 hospitals and 18 testing sites, Vanderhoff said. As of Tuesday, about 1,200 were serving at 28 hospitals and 13 testing centers.

The drop-off in cases has not been uniform across the state. The surge in parts of southern Ohio hit later and is receding more slowly than in the northern part of the state, according to Vanderhoff, who added that despite the progress, Ohioans should continue to take precautions to stop the virus’ spread.

Now is “not the time to let our guard down,” he said. Although case numbers have improved, the number of cases per 100,000 residents is still high. “It’s simply too early to declare victory.”

Experts continue to urge the public to get vaccinated or boosted if they’re eligible. More than 60% of Ohioans are vaccinated and 30% of those are boosted, according to Vanderhoff.

Additionally, many Americans may have some protection from a recent infection.

“Now about 80% of people in the homeland have been exposed” either through vaccination or infection, said Dr. Steven Gordon, chair of infectious disease at the Cleveland Clinic.

Even if you have some protection from a previous COVID-19 infection, a booster shot is still your best bet to extend that protection, Gordon said. Experts do not know how long immunity lasts after a COVID-19 infection, he said. And getting protection through vaccination is less risky than being infected with the virus.

Now that the omicron surge has receded in Northeast Ohio, the health care system and the community at large will have the capacity to plan for the next surge or variant, Gordon said.

“As we evolve into endemicity… there isn’t going to be one marker that will say when we’re there,” Gordon said. “What we’ve learned about is preparing for the next. We know that coronavirus will not go away… We’ve gotten smarter and innovated.”