CLEVELAND — Five Ohio counties, including three in Northeast Ohio, are now designated as high community-level areas for COVID-19, according to the latest data from the CDC.
The updated numbers, released Thursday night, show Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Lorain, Wood and Lucas counties on the CDC maps as “orange,” or as highly exposed. Another 18 counties in Ohio are now “amber” or at intermediate risk.
“I just think a lot of people feel like they’re done with it. Here at the Department of Health, I can tell you — I don’t want to be dramatic and say, ‘It’s far from over’ — but we’re certainly still feeling the effects,” Kevin Brenna, communications officer for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, said of the COVID-19 -Pandemic.
The CDC’s community-level classifications are now based on a combination of new case counts, new hospital admissions, and the percentage of hospital beds dedicated to COVID patients.
In Lorain County, new cases are up almost 17% from the previous week. Cuyahoga County’s new cases are up more than 28 percent. Health authorities believe the official figures are likely to be much lower than reality.
“We know there is a lot of viral load out there. The numbers should be around 1,200 [cases] a day. It’s so high, but we’re at 250 a day,” Lorain County Public Health Commissioner Mark Adams said, explaining that the health department is monitoring viral loads through waste samples.
Adams said the popularity of home testing, plus a number of asymptomatic cases, likely means many cases go unreported.
Hospitalizations for the virus have also risen modestly, but both Adams and Brennan said they are not putting a strain on local health systems. CDC data shows both counties with fewer than 12 hospital admissions per 100,000 people.
“We find that a lot of people just think they have allergies,” Adams said of the severity of the cases he sees.
Both health departments said although cases appear to be less severe than in earlier times of the pandemic, the high community levels should be a sign not to let your guard down.
Brennan explained that the Cuyahoga County Health Department recommends taking precautions, especially among high-risk and unvaccinated individuals.
“Cleaning high-touch surfaces, washing hands thoroughly, social distancing and wearing a mask — those are still the four components we’re sticking to,” Brennan said.
For the Memorial Day holiday weekend, they also recommend gathering outdoors or in a socially distanced manner.
“If you’re sick, stay home. See your relatives in about five to 10 days if you can see them and aren’t sick,” Adams added. “If you miss the Memorial Day celebrations, it’s okay to just wait and come later rather than take the chance.