Cuyahoga County hospitals overwhelmed despite plateauing COVID-19 cases

Cuyahoga County health commissioner Terry Allan (left), executive Armond Budish (top right) and MetroHealth's Dr. James Campbell address COVID-19 updates during a virtual press conference Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. [Cuyahoga County Board of Health]
Cuyahoga County health commissioner Terry Allan (left), executive Armond Budish (top right) and MetroHealth's Dr. James Campbell address COVID-19 updates during a virtual press conference Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. [Cuyahoga County Board of Health]

Cuyahoga County’s COVID-19 case and vaccination rates have both flattened over the past few weeks, health officials said in a media briefing Wednesday.

The county is averaging about 275 new cases per day, a 10 percent decline since mid-September, said Jana Rush, director of epidemiology at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.

Cuyahoga County currently has one of the lowest case rates in the state, ranking 86 out of Ohio’s 88 counties, Rush added. The county is reporting 400 cases per 100,000 residents, she said, and she expects that rate to remain flat over the next few weeks.

However, hospitals in the county are still operating at about 80 percent capacity, said health commissioner Terry Allan.

“Hospitals continue to triage patients based on the level of need, and they’re delaying certain procedures,” he said.

Residents should continue wearing masks indoors and get vaccinated to prevent another surge in hospitalizations – especially with flu season approaching, Allan said.

Currently, 56 percent of the county’s population is vaccinated, according to Ohio Department of Health (ODH) data. Racial disparities persist, Allan said, with about 34 percent of Black residents and 46 percent of Hispanic residents receiving the shot thus far.

Health officials urged residents to get their flu shots in addition to COVID-19 booster shots if they are eligible.

People who received the Pfizer vaccine are eligible for a booster shot if they are six months out from their second shot and are age 65 and older, have an underlying condition or job that puts them at a higher risk of contracting or becoming severely ill with COVID-19, or live in a long-term care facility, Allan said.

The board of health is holding booster shot clinics once a week through the end of the year, alternating between the Tri-C Western Campus Recreation Center in Parma and Word Church in Warrensville Heights, Allan said. The next clinic is at Tri-C on Tuesday, Oct. 19. To sign up for a clinic, residents should visit the state’s online scheduling portal or call 1-833-427-5634.

"So far, we at the county have sent messages to over 4,000 residents who received their first or second dose of Pfizer from the board of health. These messages inform them that they may be eligible for the booster," executive Armond Budish said.

The county’s hospitals are offering booster shots to eligible patients as well. MetroHealth has reached out to patients letting them know when they will become eligible for the booster and where they can receive it, said Dr. James Campbell, the hospital system's director of geriatric health.

“Just like we got boosters when we had our childhood immunizations, just like we get a booster for our flu shot once a year, it’s important to get that third shot,” Campbell said. “It’s a chance to help not only yourself potentially save your own life, but also to help save the lives of others.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering authorizing booster doses for those who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the coming weeks, Allan added. At this time, Moderna and J&J recipients are not eligible to receive a Pfizer booster, he said.

Allan also spoke out against House Bill 244, an Ohio law taking effect today that prohibits schools from requiring vaccinations not yet fully approved by the FDA.

“From a public health standpoint, any effort to prevent schools and universities that choose to require COVID-19 vaccines to protect their staff and students are counterproductive, and only serve to prolong this pandemic,” he said.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is the only COVID vaccine fully approved by the FDA. The vaccines from Moderna and J&J are authorized for emergency use, although full approval is expected eventually. The Pfizer vaccine remains under emergency authorization for children ages 12 to 15.

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