COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – On what would normally be rivalry week at the Ohio State University, the Buckeyes and the rest of the state are facing an opponent fiercer than That Team Up North. The new 24-hour COVID-19 case numbers released Saturday put Ohio beyond 400,000 total cases tallied since the pandemic began.
The grim milestone falls on what would be a day of celebrations in pre-COVID times. The Saturday after Thanksgiving is typically reserved for tailgating, brunch with friends and Buckeye watch parties.
“It’s sad,” said Buckeye fan Kolby Pollock. “That’s your big day, your big Saturday to [cheer] ‘Go Buckeyes.’”
“I thought about that today when I got dressed. I was like, ‘Oh I’m not putting on a Buckeye sweatshirt like I normally would be,” added fellow fan Kathy Sherry.
The abbreviated 2020 season moved the Ohio-Michigan matchup to December 12th and the Buckeyes were scheduled to face the University of Illinois Saturday instead. The Illinois game was cancelled and all team-related football activities paused Friday after several players and head coach Ryan Day tested positive for COVID-19.
“As soon as I heard Coach Day had COVID this week, it was like a huge gut punch,” said fan Ashley Waltermeyer. “It’s just another thing on the list in 2020 and I hope they can get back out there, sooner than later.”
A former OSU student, Waltermeyer described rivalry week and Buckeye games during college as “a religious experience.” After falling ill to COVID-19 and experiencing lingering issues from the virus weeks later, she said she fully grasped its impact.
“I’m 32 years old and I’m still on my second round of steroids 5 weeks out from having it,” Waltermeyer explained. “It was no fun and I’ve had a lot of chest and lung pain since then, kind of long haul COVID symptoms. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, how much you do, you can still have a pretty rough case.
“I know the Big Ten has a lot of safety measures in place. They’re doing a lot of testing, they have mitigation strategies. But despite all that, it’s still a contagious virus,” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo.
The infectious disease specialist at OhioHealth worries about Ohioans letting their guards down in the fight against COVID-19 as the football season winds down, holiday gatherings ramp up and cooler weather drives people indoors.
“Our current trajectory is really going up to the top of a very steep mountain and really I don’t see that trajectory changing at all until after the winter holidays, perhaps even into 2021, until we have more availability of the vaccine,” he explained.
Ohio’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was reported on March 9th and it would be five months before the total case number surpassed 100,000 in August. On November 16th, the state passed the 300,000 case mark and it took less than two weeks to surpass 400,000 cases.
“The take home point that people need to realize is the virus is still here, we need to get back to basics. It’s a very contagious virus,” Gastaldo said, referring to basic safety measures like hand washing, social distancing and mask wearing.
Waltermeyer agreed. She said she’s been taking precautions since the beginning, wearing a mask, ramping up cleaning and avoiding close contact with her immunocompromised parents since February.
“Making these sacrifices is just something that we do,” she said. “We should be able to do those things as Americans. And if we want to see things normal next year, just do the right thing and hopefully we get there.”
Dr. Gastaldo anticipates the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine within the next 2-3 weeks and its availability to healthcare workers by the end of the year. It will be months, however, before much of the general public will have access to the vaccine.
He said, “Receiving the vaccine is the first step in getting back to a pre-COVID way of life.”
For more than a month, Dr. Gastaldo has been working to educate physicians about the logistics, efficacy and side effects of vaccines, hoping the doctors will quell patient fears about eventually receiving it.
Dr. Gastaldo estimates by the end of 2020, Ohio could surpass 500,000-600,000 total COVID-19 cases.