COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Trump administration’s top coronavirus team is recommending that Ohio and other states take assertive action in the coming days and weeks to control what it says could be a dangerous heightening of the COVID-19 pandemic post-Thanksgiving.
Every week, the nation’s governors receive an individualized report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force that includes detailed data and recommendations for how to control the spread of COVID-19.
The task force’s Nov. 29 report warns Gov. Mike DeWine and other governors of a post-Thanksgiving worsening of the pandemic if state and local governments do not take aggressive action.
“We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity,” the report reads, “a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise COVID patient care, as well as medical care overall.”
Ohio reported a record 585 new hospitalizations on Monday, as well as more than 100 deaths on both Monday and Tuesday. As of Thursday, 5,142 people were in Ohio hospitals battling COVID-19, including 1,204 in intensive care units, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.
That data also shows 25% of total inpatient beds available statewide, including 22% of ICU beds. But hospital capacity will continue to tighten as post-Thanksgiving cases turn into hospitalizations, said Dr. Andy Thomas, Chief Clinical Officer at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, at Gov. DeWine’s Thursday coronavirus briefing.
“This surge we’re seeing now is not about Thanksgiving,” Thomas said, because people who were exposed last week are just being diagnosed this week.
After someone is diagnosed, he said, it is typically a week or two before they would be hospitalized, another week before they would be put in the ICU, and then another one to two weeks before they die.
Thomas said doctors are especially concerned about ICU bed capacity as COVID-19 hospitalizations are expected to see a post-Thanksgiving surge in mid-December. Thirty percent of Ohio ICU patients have COVID-19, Thomas said, but in rural areas like southern and southeast Ohio, it’s as high as 50% or 60%.
“That’s really one of our biggest concerns right now,” Thomas said, adding that it is hard to increase ICU bed capacity because they require specialized equipment and workers.
“Aggressive” testing recommended
The White House task force’s Nov. 29 report points to testing as key to controlling post-Thanksgiving spread as new hospital admissions “continue to rapidly increase.”
“Conduct aggressive impact testing of adults under 40 to rapidly identify those who became infected over Thanksgiving,” the task force recommends to Ohio and other states, “before they spread the virus to more vulnerable individuals, driving another round of increased hospitalizations and fatalities.”
Tests in Ohio have averaged 46,716 per day since Thanksgiving after hitting 65,277 the day before the holiday and peaking at 70,833 on Nov. 13.
Thomas said during Thursday’s briefing that some testing sites were closed over the Thanksgiving holiday, which could explain the drop. Weekend testing numbers are also typically lower than weekdays.
Spokespeople for neither the governor nor the Ohio Department of Health returned a request for comment by publishing time Friday for what Ohio is doing to increase testing to this level or how much impact the White House’s recommendations have on the DeWine administration’s actions.
Ohio’s seven-day moving average for positive COVID-19 tests sat at 15.4 percent Thursday, the highest since April 24.
Possibly the task force’s most serious recommendation in its post-Thanksgiving report is that people under 40 “need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period if you gathered beyond your immediate household.”
The report notes these people likely will have no symptoms, but they are still “dangerous to others” and “must isolate away from anyone at increased risk for severe disease and get tested immediately.”
DeWine on Thursday told Ohioans to assume that other people are carrying the virus, so wear a mask when around people not in your household and obey the stay-at-home order in effect through Dec. 10.
“Stay home,” the governor said, “Go to work, go to school, but really try to minimize contacts with others.”
Ohio’s last travel advisory map before Thanksgiving listed 16 states that visiting would require quarantine when returning.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines on Wednesday to advise that people quarantine for 10 days instead of 14 after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 if showing no symptoms, or seven days if they test negative.
Ohio among states with worst spread
Sunday’s White House report was the 24th installment of a weekly document that was only for officials’ eyes until records requests from Liz Essley Whyte at the Center for Public Integrity have made them public since July.
Thirty states’ Nov. 29 reports are available as of publishing time, including Ohio’s most populous border state, Pennsylvania.
Raising flu vaccination rates and expanding public health messages on media platforms were among things that White House officials recommended to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf that it did not recommend to DeWine.
Ohio and much of the Midwest and Mountain West is listed in the task force’s highest color zone, red, for new weekly coronavirus cases and deaths. Sixteen states are in the red zone for both metrics, including Ohio and Indiana.