When will the omicron variant peak in Ohio?

As Ohio continues to report record-breaking COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, many are wondering how long the surge will last.

With South Africa seeing a steep drop in omicron cases, Ohio health officials hope that the state could see a similar decline.

“We would all hope that we are able to enjoy the same kind of pattern seen in South Africa,” said Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff on Friday. “Certainly it has been encouraging that the omicron wave was able to recede as almost quickly as it arrived in South Africa.”

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One of the big differences between populations in South Africa and Ohio is age. South Africa’s population is about 10 years younger than the U.S., said Cleveland Clinic Chief Medical Operations Officer Dr. Robert Wyllie. Ohio’s population is slightly older compared to the U.S.’s general population.

“So we’re more likely to see a lingering effect of omicron and a little bit more severity of the omicron affecting older people as opposed to younger people,” Wylie said.

Due to the older population, Ohio may not see as sharp of a decline and instead have more of a steady decline in cases.

Wylie added that Cuyahoga County and other Northern Ohio communities may have started to show signs of a peak. The time the omicron variant was recognized as a problem in South Africa to its decline was about 25 to 30 days, which is currently where Northern Ohio is, he said.

“[Northern Ohio has] begun to peak and, in Cuyahoga County, we’ve dropped over the last seven to 10 days in terms of the number of new cases per day,” Wylie said.

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Some modeling predicts Ohio could peak around the end of January, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Andy Thomas added. Because Northern Ohio is about two weeks ahead of Central Ohio and approximately four weeks ahead of Southwest Ohio, the state will probably see a shift as the variant peaks and then declines, he said.

Another possible factor in this surge is K-12 students returning to school. If unvaccinated students are unmasked in close proximity of each other while in class, Ohio could see more absences as students and staff get sick or even schools going back to virtual learning.

“We’ve been pushing across the state for K-12 schools to understand that while vaccination is the best long-term strategy for managing this illness, face masking is the best short-term mitigation for this,” Thomas said.

Though there is hope Ohio could see a peak in COVID hospitalizations and cases in the coming weeks, Vanderhoff stressed the importance of focusing on what Ohioans can do now to prevent the virus from spreading.

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“The reality is that on the ground right now Ohio is facing a historic challenge in terms of the demands and pressure placed on our hospital and health care delivery system,” he said. “This is as serious as we have seen and our hospitals are having to go through extraordinary efforts to provide beds and the needed care to the sickest patients across our state.”

Anyone who is eligible should get vaccinated and boosted and Ohioans should wear face masks while in large groups.

“This virus is not going away,” Vanderhoff said. “It has been clear that with variant after variant after variant our best defense against severe illness has remained getting vaccinated.”

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