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Officials Say Ohio Is On The Path To Flattening The Curve

Ohio Department of Health officials said we will see a peak near April 19 with less than 1,600 cases. [Ohio Department of Health]
Ohio Department of Health officials said we will see peak on April 19 with less than around 16-hundred cases.

As of Thursday, Ohio has 5,512 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 213 deaths. Even though the number of deaths from the coronavirus continues to grow, state and local health officials are suggesting Ohio is on the path to flattening the curve of COVID-19 patients. Officials say that by staying home Ohioans have changed the course of how the virus will likely move through our state.

ideastream host Glen Forbes spoke with health reporter Marlene Harris-Taylor about the changing forecasts on the coronavirus spread in Ohio and about antibody tests which some say will be available soon in Clevelend to help manage the next phase of the pandemic.

What are health officials saying? Are updated forecast models saying will we see fewer cases and deaths in Ohio than originally predicted?

Yes, if everything holds — meaning Ohioans continue social distancing — several models are predicting the situation has changed, and it now looks like we won’t have such a huge surge of sick patients overwhelming our health system here.

Ohio Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton said we will see a peak near April 19 with less than around 1,600 cases per day. That’s down from a worst-case scenario that projected 10,000 new cases a day.

“We still are experiencing shortages of testing and shortages of PPE [personal protective equipment], so the actions you are taking keeping the pressure off our health care system are vital because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to provide that care for emergencies,” Acton said.

That is a big turnaround, but Dr. Acton says there will be a peak in Ohio, even though it looks to be a much smaller than originally expected. But are there other models that tell a slightly different story?

Yes, MetroHealth released its own data this week. It’s also a good news story, but the CEO of MetroHealth, Dr. Akram Boutros, said there won’t be one peak, but a series of smaller flare-ups from cluster groups. The severe restrictions on contact we’ve had here in Ohio has interrupted the transmission of the virus, said Boutros.

“And once you interrupt widespread contagion, widespread contact between people, this now looks at a very flat curve with spikes. When there are flare-ups like at a federal prison, we need to push resources to where the flare-ups are and actually put out the fires there,” he said.

Those flare-ups or clusters he mentioned can also happen at nursing homes, or when a large group attends an event like church, Boutros said.

So some models are showing a smaller peak and others a series of peaks for Ohio. What about here in Cuyahoga County, what should we expect?

Cuyahoga County Board of Health Medical Director Dr. Heidi Gullett said it’s difficult to pick one model and say this is the correct one. She thinks there is merit in the MetroHealth model, but her concern is that since there has not been widespread testing in Ohio — there are many people out here who have COVID-19 but don’t know it.

“We also know that without enough testing we are probably not understanding the full extent of the infection in the community. And that includes probably other clusters that exist — we can’t get those people tested,” Gullett said.

Because of that unknown community spread due to limited testing, Gullett said she feels it is “reckless” to try to predict an exact peak date for Cuyahoga County because it is a constantly evolving situation.

Dr. Gullett says testing is important and I know that has been an issue nationally, this shortage of test to see who has the virus. Any indication when tests will be more widely available?

Dr. Boutros said he is really excited that MetroHealth and other hospitals in the Cleveland area will soon have antibody testing. These blood tests can show if you ever had COVID-19 and if you have some immunity built up in your system, he said.

“We are going to test people who already had the disease and then we are going to test people who need testing, and then we are going to test caregivers who are taking care of COVID positive patients, and then we will do the general public. And I think all the hospitals will do that over the coming weeks and months,” he said.

These antibody tests are being touted as the way to possibly start opening up the community again, because if people have immunity they could possibly return to work. There are some who caution, though, that these tests may not be ready for prime time because there are questions about their accuracy.

Marlene Harris-Taylor
Marlene is the director of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.