LIMA — New COVID-19 admissions to Lima hospitals have fallen by roughly 30% from their peak last week as new treatments allow more people to recover at home and new coronavirus cases in the region appear to be plateauing.
But the next two weeks will be a crucial test of how long that lull in hospital admissions will last, as people infected during the Thanksgiving holiday are just now starting to fall ill and a backlog in lab processing means confirmed infections may not be reported for days.
“If we see another surge next week and fill back up … then it means that Thanksgiving was pretty active,” said Dr. Matt Owens, chief clinical officer for Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center. “If we don’t, then I think we’re going to owe the public a huge thank you for partnering with us to slow the spread.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Lima region peaked last week with more than 150 patients admitted to Lima hospitals and community hospitals throughout the region, according to Dr. Dennis Morris, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs for Lima Memorial Health System.
That’s since fallen to roughly 110 COVID-positive patients in hospitals across the region by Thursday morning.
But more people are also being treated at home as Lima hospitals begin utilizing monoclonal antibody treatments that the FDA recently authorized for emergency use in high-risk patients whose symptoms are mild.
Others are being sent home from the emergency department with supplemental oxygen, pulse oximeters and home health aides, freeing hospital beds for those with the most severe illness.
And elective procedures requiring a hospital stay post-operation are still on hold at St. Rita’s, which has redeployed many of its healthcare workers this fall to help care for COVID-positive patients, while Lima Memorial evaluates whether it’s appropriate to perform those procedures on a daily basis.
Now, healthcare workers are bracing for what could be another surge of new infections generated by Thanksgiving weekend gatherings.
In most cases, an infected person will not show symptoms for three to 10 days, and it can take another one to two weeks before that person could be sick enough to be admitted to a hospital.
Ohio identified more than 8,900 confirmed cases in the last 24 hours Thursday, with thousands more test results still pending and more than 5,100 Ohioans now hospitalized with the disease.
The West Central region was the only part of the state that has seen hospital admissions decline this week, a trend which Owens said could quickly reverse if residents here let up on safety precautions.
But the state is already in crisis, according to Dr. Nora Colburn, an infectious disease epidemiologist with The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, as hospital admissions for COVID-19 rapidly escalate, threatening the ability of hospitals to perform routine healthcare for non-COVID patients.
And as more hospitals take in a greater share of COVID-19 patients, fewer facilities will have the capacity to accept patient transfers from overwhelmed facilities, especially as healthcare workers are themselves falling ill or quarantining, exacerbating a staffing shortage and burnout among healthcare workers.
“It’s simply unsafe to be around anyone outside of your household without a mask or social distancing,” Colburn said, noting that social “bubbles” are much larger than people realize.
She advised Ohioans to stay home except for the most essential errands.
When that isn’t possible, she said, wear a mask — even while outdoors if other people are nearby or socializing with friends.