Regional COVID-19 outbreaks strain Lima’s hospital system

LIMA — Lima hospitals are admitting more patients with COVID-19 than at any other time during the pandemic, a trend which threatens to strain Lima’s hospital system right as flu season is about to begin and new COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Allen County and the surrounding region that relies on Lima hospitals.

There were about 55 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 between the two hospitals Wednesday, which is nearly twice as many patients as the hospital systems had seen at once in the spring, summer and early fall, according to Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matt Owens and Dr. Dennis Morris, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs for Lima Memorial Health System.

A death was reported Thursday in Allen County, a 79-year-old man.

The latest wave of hospitalizations also reflects a shift away from nursing home outbreaks, bringing with it a younger set of patients who were exposed to the coronavirus at social gatherings, in the community or in their own homes.

An outbreak at the Delphos Eagles lodge in late September, for example, has hospitalized at least eight people, according to the Allen County Health Department, which has identified 18 cases who attended the lodge since Sept. 22.

In many cases, health departments are unable to identify where a person was exposed because the coronavirus is so prevalent in the community.

Allen County now ranks seventh in the state for new cases per capita, with 248 cases per 100,000 people reported between Sept. 30 and Oct. 13.

The surrounding counties are reporting even more cases per capita — Putnam County saw 336 cases per 100,000 in those two weeks, while Mercer and Auglaize counties each reported 313 cases per 100,000 people — which is driving hospitalizations at Lima hospitals even higher.

That threatens to strain not just hospital bed availability but staffing, as coronavirus disease patients often require longer stays and medical staff may get sick or be put under quarantine themselves.

Morris is concerned to see this trend in mid-October, with the coming flu season and colder weather making outdoor gatherings less appealing.

“We flattened the curve once, and that’s what we need to strive for again,” he said.

Ohio reported a record 2,178 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, surpassing the previous day’s record of 2,039 and more than doubling the number of new cases reported on Sept. 20.

The state’s test positivity rate has also doubled over the last month to 5.4%, and hospitalizations are rising across Ohio as more people are infected.

About 65% of Ohioans are now living in a county under a Red public health alert, while 85% of Ohioans are living in counties with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people identified in the last two weeks.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday said many of the state’s new cases are still coming from weddings, funerals, birthday parties and other social gatherings where people feel comfortable and are less likely to wear a mask.

“I think its human nature to want to spend time with people,” said Dr. David Margolius, a director of internal medicine for Metro Health Systems who spoke during DeWine’s press conference Thursday. “My message today is: It’s OK to spend time with people. It doesn’t have to be a binary decision.”

Margolius emphasized a harm-reduction approach, in which people socialize outdoors whenever possible while still maintaining physical distance and wearing a mask.

“If you’re going to spend time with people,” he said, “spend time safely.”

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By Mackenzi Klemann

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