Allen County sees highest weekly death toll since 2020

By Mackenzi Klemann -

LIMA — Fourteen Allen County residents have died from COVID-19 in the last week, as the weekly death toll from coronavirus disease reaches highs not seen since last December despite the wide availability of vaccines that prevent serious illness.

The disease is now claiming a younger cohort of Ohioans, many of whom once believed they were not at risk: a 37-year-old woman who died Oct. 11; a 45-year-old man who died Oct. 8; five men and women in their 50s, all of whom have died within the last week, according to Allen County Public Health.

The deaths present another paradox of the virus: deaths may persist for weeks even though the highly contagious delta variant of coronavirus may have already peaked in Allen County.

Allen County Public Health has reported 20 COVID-19-related deaths in October alone, while Lima hospitals have struggled for weeks to keep pace with the number of critically ill patients sickened with the disease, who now occupy a majority of all intensive care beds at Lima Memorial Health System and Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center.

The situation has often been tense: Both hospitals have had to request additional ventilators from Ohio Emergency Management after Lima Memorial temporarily ran out of supplies in early October, relying on loaned ventilators from St. Rita’s until more equipment arrived.

St. Rita’s has at times operated its intensive care unit at twice the maximum capacity, creating additional COVID-19 units. And both hospitals were at or near capacity Friday, with about 25% of all patients being treated for the disease, according to chief clinical officers from Lima Memorial and St. Rita’s.

The trend has put tremendous pressure on health care workers at a time when many are leaving the field entirely.

“These people are working extra shifts. Incentive pay is nice, but at some point you just need a break,” said Dr. Dennis Morris, chief medical officer and vice president for Lima Memorial.

The situation could take weeks to settle down, as new coronavirus cases have plateaued at seven times the rate of what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention calls high community transmission.

Allen County Public Health is also struggling to keep pace with sending isolation and quarantine letters for each of the 40 to 60 new cases it sees each day, said Brandon Fischer, Allen County health commissioner.

The coming flu season presents another concern, as only 41% of Allen County residents are partially or fully vaccinated against the coronavirus at a time when other respiratory illnesses are known to spread.

Allen County Public Health is offering flu shots alongside coronavirus vaccines and booster shots at the Lima Mall from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays in an effort to bring transmission of influenza and coronavirus down.

By Mackenzi Klemann

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