DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN)– State and local health leaders say we are heading into a dark winter if Ohioans don’t stay diligent in protecting themselves from COVID-19 during the next week’s holiday gatherings. The Ohio Department of Health held a news conference Wednesday as current cases have hit a new record high for the course of the pandemic.

Health leaders in the Miami Valley said residents can control what happens after the holiday break; either cases will plateau if safety guidelines are practiced or we will see a surge of cases like no other.

“We may not be seeing the same numbers as the Northeast is seeing but we know it’s coming,” said UC Health Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Forrester.

Ohio’s Southwestern medical leaders said the COVID-19 surge hasn’t hit its peak yet.

“With these numbers, we have a troubling picture and should be a wake up call for every Ohioan,” said ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff. “Especially when we think about gatherings with loved ones for the holidays.”

Regardless of vaccination status, more local health leaders encourage Ohioans to stay vigilant protecting themselves during the holiday, the omicron variant has created new challenges for protection.

“Because of these mutations, the omicron variant has developed some changes in the spike protein that makes us more susceptible, that paired with time and weaning immunity is why we’re seeing some vaccinated people catch this variant,” said Dr. Forrester.

Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said they are 7th in the state and first in the Miami Valley for highest case rate. Patterson said health leaders are asking for people to continue testing before and after attending holiday gatherings. He’s encouraging residents to stay positive but test negative.

“What we’re finding is recently those test kits are becoming more and more scarce so if more of those come available that’s great but we need them now, not two or three months from now,” said Patterson.

State health leaders said in Wednesday’s conference that the COVID-19 cases have returned to new record highs and believe the omicron variant may be leading the way.

“COVID-19 is relentlessly seeking out those who are not well protected and choosing to not be vaccinated is simply a gamble with your help,” said Dr. Vanderhoff.

State health leaders warn 40 percent of Ohioans are unvaccinated heading into the holiday weekend, posing a real threat to the state. Governor Mike DeWine deployed 1,000 National Guard members to several northern hospitals to help frontline workers with limited resources and staff.

Details are still being finalized, but in the first initial deployment, hospitals that will receive these members include:

  • Mercy Health St. Elizabeth in Mahoning County
  • Mercy Health St. Joseph in Trumbull County 
  • Cleveland Clinic Akron General Medical Center
  • Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital in Stark County
  • Summa Akron City Hospital 
  • ProMedica Toledo
  • Mercy Health St. Vincent Hospital in Toledo

“These folks, what they have done and continue to do over these 20 plus months is outstanding,” said president of Summa Health System Akron Campus, Dr. David Custodio.”But everyone is human, they are fatigued, they are overworked, they are tired but most of all they are discouraged.”

As omicron becomes the dominant variant in the country, Ohio health leaders worry holiday joy may be short-lived.

“I am nervous that it will never stop, especially when schools are taking mask mandates and unvaccinated folks are traveling and getting exposed, we will see the trailing effects of the holidays for a long time,” said Dr. Custodio.

2 NEWS reached out to ODH to ask where FEMA will be deployed in the state. They said they are actively requesting assistance groups of 20 to 30 members to several areas and details of specific critical needs and exact locations have yet to be determined.