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Public health update: Sept. 7, 2021

Published: September 7, 2021 Author: Staff reports

Dear OHIO community members,

Health care and education — institutions of society that are often taken for granted — are now under siege from COVID-19. Hospitals are filling up, health care workers are exhausted and discouraged, and K-12 teachers and students are unable to meet and learn because of sickness in their buildings.

Our health care and education systems are paying the price of society’s slow vaccine uptake, inaction, and the lack of adherence to basic public health protocols. It’s important to acknowledge how much we all rely on hospitals and public schools and to do our part to protect their missions to serve and care for us all.

Last week, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association pleaded with all Ohioans to get vaccinated if eligible, to wear a mask, and to practice physical distancing and handwashing. They asked for our help because more children are visiting Ohio hospitals with COVID symptoms, and more are being hospitalized and admitted to intensive care because of COVID than ever before. Schools around our region have already closed for multiple days due to the high number of positive cases among students and staff. 

Ohioans with COVID are straining our state’s hospitals: COVID hospitalizations and ICU admissions have increased tenfold since July 1. In rural Ohio, where most of our campuses are located, one in four hospitalizations are COVID patients, and one in three ICU patients are people battling COVID to stay alive. Most of these sick individuals are unvaccinated: since January, 97.5 percent of individuals hospitalized with COVID were unvaccinated. Despite our desperate wishes that the pandemic be “over,” we are in perhaps our most critical hour; the time to act is now.

Please help flatten the curve

Remember back at the beginning of the pandemic, when Amy Acton, former director of the Ohio Department of Health, would explain the importance of flattening the curve? We are right back at that critical time again: We need everyone to do what they can to reduce the spread of the virus so that our health care system is not overwhelmed. “Flattening the curve” means that we take precautions so that everyone doesn't get sick at the same time, need a COVID test at the same time, or need hospital beds or ventilators at the same time.

Flattening the curve must start with us right here on our campuses, where cases are accelerating quickly. COVID Operations and local health care providers are having difficulty meeting peoples’ needs as our systems are also becoming overwhelmed: 

  • In the last 7 days, across OHIO’s campuses alone, we have had 212 positive students, faculty, and staff.  
  • COVID Operations’ phone lines have been extremely busy, with hold times averaging 20 minutes and lasting as long as two hours. Last week, our average number of calls per day increased by 90 percent: 232 per day compared with 122 per day the week before. Last week we received 723 incident report forms compared with only 633 during the entire month preceding. 
  • OhioHealth urgent cares in Athens County are running out of rapid molecular test supplies and are experiencing higher patient volumes than at any time during the pandemic. As an example, the positivity rate for students tested last Tuesday at Campus Care on the Athens campus was 36 percent.
  • Due to event and classroom exposures, COVID Operations has had to test nearly 2,000 asymptomatic people since the start of the semester.
  • Hospital capacity is at a tipping point: Region 7 (Athens, Lawrence and Ross counties) last week was at the highest point since December 23, 2020 (87.3 percent). ICU capacity was 88.6 percent. This means that students, faculty and staff who need care for any illness are at risk. Region 7 total COVID hospital patients last week were at the highest point since December 23, 2020, with a 44.4 percent increase over the previous seven days.  

These stresses will continue if we don’t work together to flatten the curve by doing what we can to reduce transmission. So many OHIO community members are connected to our local schools and health systems. Our actions on our campuses directly affect these places where our students go for internships, our children go to learn, our family members go to work, and our loved ones go for medical care.

Even something that seems simple, like getting a symptomatic COVID-19 test, is not always possible in a timely manner in our region right now due to high demand for health care resources. We all need to think like public health experts and consider every opportunity to make the safest decisions possible during our daily interactions.

Dr. Gillian Ice
Special Assistant to the President for Public Health Operations

Resources from COVID Operations

What to do if you test positive, have symptoms, or are exposed to COVID-19
Students, faculty and staff who test positive for COVID-19, experience symptoms, or are exposed to a COVID-positive person should follow the OHIO COVID-19 Protocol

Reference guide for isolation and quarantine
Find details on what you need to do based on your vaccination status.

Get a vaccine on campus or beyond 
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to protect yourself, and the best way to protect our Bobcat community. 

Keep tabs on COVID-19 on OHIO campuses
Monitor OHIO's COVID-19 testing, case rates, vaccination rates and more on OHIO's COVID-19 Dashboard.