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Ohio's health leader warns against complacency as COVID situation improves in Ohio

 Man holds sample from wastewater treatment facility
A worker holds a sample from a wastewater treatment facility. According to the Ohio Department of Health, the program the state is using to detect the coronavirus in sewage has been an effective way for local health departments to manage and even prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

In the heart of the Omicron surge in January, Ohio experienced up to 20,000 new COVID-19 cases per day. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff says Ohio is now averaging 2,800 cases per day and points out there have been some days with fewer than 1,000 cases.

Because of the lower case numbers and lessened strain on hospitals, he says the remaining Ohio National Guard members who had been working in some Ohio hospitals and nursing homes have been released from their missions. But he warns Ohioans should still take COVID-19 seriously, especially with new variants that could come in the future.

"Omicron is not quite done threatening us yet," Vanderhoff said.

 Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director, Ohio Dept of Health
Ohio Department of Health
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health

Vanderhoff says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers 50 cases per 100,000 residents to be "substantial" community transmission. And he points out all 88 counties remain above that threshold.

Some Ohio schools and communities are doing away with mask requirements. Vanderhoff says COVID-19 is still a real presence in Ohio and urges Ohioans to consider the spread in their community before easing up on policies requiring masks. And he says Ohioans who are not fully vaccinated, including boosters, should get them. He says most Ohioans should have three COVID-19 vaccinations (two initial doses and one booster), and older Ohioans who have underlying health conditions should have had 4 shots (two initial doses and two extra doses or boosters). Currently, less than 61% of eligible Ohioans have received the first two doses of COVID vaccines. And children under the age of 5 are still not eligible to receive COVID vaccines.

 COVID vaccine dashboard
Ohio Department of Health
COVID vaccine dashboard

Vanderhoff says the wastewater testing program Ohio has been using to detect COVID-19 in sewage water has been effective in providing local health departments with real data they can use to prepare for, contain, and even prevent COVID outbreaks in their communities. He says that technology will continue and expand in the future to capture information about bacterial illnesses.

“Some of these food-borne bacterial outbreaks that it would be very helpful to know something is going on,” Vanderhoff said.

 No COVID test signs at Powell, Ohio library
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau
A sign informs visitors of a library in Powell that no COVID-19 tests are available. Libraries throughout the state were handing out test kits in December 2021, and a month later the kits were in short supply. Now the state has resumed sending kits to libraries.

Vanderhoff says rapid, at-home testing kits are being dispersed again to local libraries. He adds the state has distributed more than 2.5 million rapid at-home tests through 450 library locations so far during this pandemic. But not all libraries have those tests in stock at all times so it is best to check ahead of time before making the trip to pick up tests.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment. Jo started her career in Louisville, Kentucky in the mid 80’s when she helped produce a televised presidential debate for ABC News, worked for a creative services company and served as a general assignment report for a commercial radio station. In 1989, she returned back to her native Ohio to work at the WOSU Stations in Columbus where she began a long resume in public radio.