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CLEVELAND (WJW) – COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise, this time at levels seen before vaccinations were available in the late fall and winter of 2020, with one expert calling it a fifth wave of the virus.

Donna Skoda, Summit County Public Health Commissioner, said case counts have doubled since the beginning of November after noticing a jump in cases around Halloween.

“We’ve had somewhere around 250 up to 440 cases, which is quite an increase from where we were. It is clearly a fifth surge,” said Skoda.

This latest surge is already creating a bottleneck of issues at area hospitals.

Summa Health reports 117 current COVID-positive patients, compared to about 78 patients two weeks ago.

“As volumes of COVID patients increase, along with other patients requiring inpatient care, capacity is impacted throughout the hospital, including the EDs and ICUs,” said Dr. David Custodio, Summa Health System president at the Akron and St. Thomas campuses. “ED wait times vary by the hour but are increasing throughout the region due to the COVID case surge. To prevent further spread, get vaccinated and get your booster, practice social distancing and continue masking.”

University Hospitals said, “The surge of severely ill patients admitted to our hospitals for COVID-19 is nearly all unvaccinated patients. We continue to provide information about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and encourage our patients to get vaccinated.”

The ability of area hospitals to keep up with an increase in COVID patients amid staffing shortages remains a concern.

A Cleveland Clinic spokesperson said, “Healthcare is facing an increased demand for services, and like other hospitals across the country, our health system is also experiencing staffing challenges. These factors have contributed to longer than expected wait times in our emergency departments.”

“We’re prepared for the worst, but it’s not great. We wanted to be in a much better position than we are today,” said Dr. David Margolius, division director of general internal medicine at MetroHealth. “Our numbers are tracking super similarly to where we were last year. The big difference is so many people are protected now… we are in a much better place than last year even though the numbers are trending in the same direction.”

The unvaccinated are still the most vulnerable and make up most patients in the hospital with the virus. Skoda is tracking an increase in breakthrough cases in Summit County.

“We were somewhere around 10 to 20% of all cases were breakthrough cases and we’re seeing that go up a little bit as well,” she said. “So now, more important than ever, people need to get that vaccine booster.”

As the holiday season begins, experts urge caution to turn this latest surge around.