A panel of specialists from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center provided a briefing about the coronavirus in Ohio as well as the most recent information about the omicron variant Wednesday.
While the omicron variant has yet to be detected in Ohio, researchers at Wexner are working to identify it.
The center has two full laboratories that perform sequencing — a process that identifies and analyzes different and new variants. “We have not yet identified omicron in Ohio, but we are working with the state of Ohio to identify variants around the state,” said Dr. Peter Mohler, chief scientific officer and president of research at the OSU College of Medicine.
There have been a total of 6,851 cases of COVID-19 in Highland County so far, and the number for the two weeks prior to Dec. 2 is 261, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
According to Dr. Andrew Thomas, Wexner’s chief clinical officer, the current average of 7,600 cases per day in Ohio is about the same as the peak of the delta variant’s surge in September.
He said the trajectory of cases in Central Ohio is moving up, and is within 50 patients of the highest number reported during the surge.
Although the new variants have materialized, the steps people need to take to stem the tide of COVID-19 remain the same regardless of the variant, he said.
“It is so far believed that while the variants of COVID-19, including omicron, may be more spreadable, the current vaccines are nearly as effective in dealing with them,” said Thomas.
Dr. Susan Koletar, director of the center’s Division of Infectious Diseases, pointed out that there has so far been less than a year of widespread use of the current COVID-19 vaccines. “Omicron was identified less than a month ago in Batswana, and it seems to be more infective but may not be quite as bad as a disease,” she said.
She said it is also still important to get regular flu vaccines as there are more cases of Influenza this year than all of last year.
She added that the biggest impact of lowering the number of coronavirus related hospitalizations is due to the use of vaccines. She implored people to get a booster shot. “The reason boosters came out is because the effectiveness of the vaccines seems to have lessened over the duration of the trials,” she said.
The delta variant is currently the most common type of the virus in Ohio, and booster shots are recommended for everyone over 18.
The holiday season is expected to add fuel to the amount of cases. “Cases rose in early in November, probably because of Halloween, and they have continued to rise and have yet to peak, so get tested and stay home if you are infected,” said Mohler.
According to Koletar, people who have already had the virus do have some added protection. “There is some natural immunity, but we don’t know how long it lasts, and you should still get the vaccine,” she said.
While researchers are still working to learn about the omicron variant, people should verify claims from pharmaceutical companies about their vaccines with the information that comes out from the scientific community. “We have large laboratories and massive teams to track and determine the facts about omicron, and it is important for independent laboratories to verify what pharmaceutical companies say about their respective vaccines,” said Mohler.
“While we’re looking at omicron today, we are also making sure our tests will find any new variants,” he added.
All of the doctors agreed that the bottom line in dealing with COVID-19 is to get vaccinated because vaccines are the way to prevent severe disease, and the greater number of people who are vaccinated, the less pressure is put on hospitals that have other major health issues to deal with. They added that this is especially true in rural communities.
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.