AKRON, Ohio (WJW)– Packed emergency rooms, full intensive care units and exhausted health care workers. Summit County doctors and health officials paint a grim picture of how COVID-19, especially the omicron variant, is overwhelming health systems in the area.
Hospital CEOs, health and political leaders held a virtual news briefing Wednesday to let Summit County residents know the situation they are facing in the county.
“We don’t want to return to the dark days of 2020, but unfortunately, we are already seeing COVID raising its nasty, little head again,” said Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro.
Shapiro called for business leaders to do everything they can to keep customers and employees safe as yet another wave of COVID-19 threatens hospital capacity, event cancellations and people’s lives.
“Things like masks for all staff and customers, vaccines and boosters, creating incentives for people to take themselves,” she said.
“Just in the last six months, we’ve seen wait times increase almost 30% because of the sheer number of people needing to visit the hospital and receive emergency care,” said Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan.
Dr. Brian Harte, president of Cleveland Clinic Akron General, said for the past several weeks, the hospital has had between 120 and 140 COVID patients.
“That’s between a quarter and a third of all the beds in the hospital… In addition, we have about two-thirds of our entire intensive care unit capacity taken up currently by COVID positive patients,” Harte said.
He says 89% of those patients are unvaccinated and one to five patients die from COVID every day.
The situation is similar at Summa Health, according to CEO Dr. Cliff Deveny.
“Right now, we have 190 folks in the hospital with COVID, 91% of them have not been vaccinated. We’ve had over 500 people die in our facilities from COVID. We’ve treated over 10,500 people in the hospitals for COVID,” Deveny said.
City Council President Margo Sommerville, who is also a business owner, is asking other businesses to impose mask mandates for customers and employees.
“As a funeral director, I see first-hand the high numbers of preventable deaths and the burdens and long-lasting effects that are placed on families,” Sommerville said.
The county has given out 45,000 at-home test kits. Officials expect 10,000 more, but not before Monday.
Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said testing has also been a challenge, especially with the rise of omicron.
“We know that it is extremely contagious, it is more contagious than any other ancestral viruses that were here before it… And it is as contagious almost as measles,” Skoda said.
Members of the public were able to ask written questions. One person asked if county officials planned to shut down schools. The answer was no.
Another person asked, “If someone is fully vaccinated with a booster and comes into contact with a COVID-positive person, should they cancel a small gathering?”
The health commissioner said yes, suggesting it’s not worth the risk.
In January the Summit County Public Health Department plans to offer daily COVID-19 vaccine appointments, and then assess whether they’ll need to do larger scale drive-through clinics.