Cincy medical leader warns: Two weeks to stop COVID spread or were going to have problems – The Cincinnati Enquirer

Unless the Cincinnati region can summon the will in the next two weeks to again push back hard against the new coronavirus, hospitals could face the prospect of restricting care only to pandemic patients, a medical leader of the area’s response warned Friday.

The alert came from Dr. Peter Margolis of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, who leads a team calculating daily regional reports on the pandemic. Dr. Richard Lofgren, chief executive office of UC Health and a key adviser to Gov. Mike DeWine, also cautioned that people cannot let down their guard against the highly infectious virus, particularly at the approach of the yearend holidays plus the Nov. 3 general election.

“We know a whole lot more than we did when we were flying blind when the virus was introduced into our community,” Lofgren said. “We’re not at the point where we can eradicate the virus. We can’t hide from it forever. We can in fact live with it in our community and keep it at bay, but it doesn’t take much for it to come roaring back.”

Dr. Richard Lofgren, chief executive officer of UC Health, has been a key state leader in Ohio's response to the pandemic. He told reporters Friday that rising case numbers are a bad sign, and even though the holidays are approaching, residents need to be vigilant with masks, hand washing and social distancing to control the spread of the coronavirus.

[Please support The Enquirer’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with a subscription.]

Roar back it has, Lofgren and Margolis said, echoing Gov. Mike DeWine and public health officials across the state. DeWine made a quick stop in Cincinnati Friday afternoon to underscore his concern about the rising tide of cases across the Buckeye State.

Thursday, DeWine reported for the first time, 29 of Ohio’s 88 counties are “red” with surging infection from the coronavirus, including Hamilton, Butler and Warren. Lofgren has been advising the governor about how to manage the pandemic. 

Margolis and Lofgren spoke to Cincinnati area reporters Friday to sound the alarm about the rising case counts. Margolis, co-director of the College of Medicine’s James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence, has been overseeing the daily status report published by the Health Collaborative, the regional nonprofit coordinating efforts of 30 hospitals in 14 counties.

Lofgren and Margolis pointed out that twice already, the region has brought its rate of infection down, in June and again in late August, with the behavioral modification of masks, handwashing, social distancing and avoiding groups larger than 10 especially indoors.

But Margolis said now, “Hospitalizations are as high as we’ve ever seen them,” and the region’s deaths now are about 25 a week. “That’s like a busload of people running off the road and getting killed,” he said.

Cities roughly the same size as Cincinnati – Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Austin, Texas – have been able to keep their rates of infection lower through the pandemic, Margolis said. That success occurred through “very, very consistent messaging” about the behavioral changes.

“They did a better job of suppressing the virus from the start,” Margolis said of the three other cities, “and that gives them more wiggle room now.”

Over the past three weeks, he said, the trends across the Cincinnati region turned south. Daily case counts have been doubling about every 10 days. The seven-day average of cases in Hamilton County now is at 150 a day, and 400 a day for the 14-county area.

Margolis said cases are rising just as hospitals are at their customary annual peaks of bed occupancy. If coronavirus case numbers double again in 10 days, there won’t be enough room in two weeks to care for anyone but patients with COVID-19, the illness that results from coronavirus infection.

“That means we’re going to have to stop elective surgery, stop doing elective procedures,” Margolis said. “Two weeks from now, if we double the cases, we’re going to have a different conversation.”

When the virus arrived in Ohio in the spring, DeWine ordered Ohio hospitals to halt nonessential surgeries and procedures for six weeks. That line of work accounts for about 40% of hospital revenues, and the Ohio Hospital Association estimated that those six weeks alone cost its 240 members at least $2 billion.

Lofgren said he can’t see one reason in particular that the numbers are going up, although, “People are expanding their bubbles,” which is a dangerous habit now. “The more people you have in your bubble, the more likely you are to run into someone who is infected and asymptomatic and spreading the disease.“As we think about going indoors more, we need to think about what kind of impact that has on the spread of this virus back into our community.”

Friday, Lofgren did not specifically address Margolis’ warning about another shutdown in health care. But he pointed out that the impact of the spring closure on people with conditions other than COVID-19 has been heavy, “and we can’t do that again.”