Delta Variant Increasing In Northeast Ohio, But COVID-19 Cases Remain Low

While the delta variant is showing up more in Cleveland-area labs tracking the virus, overall case counts and hospitalizations remain low, officials say. [Nhemz / Shutterstock]
While the delta variant is showing up more in Cleveland-area labs tracking the virus, overall case counts and hospitalizations remain low, officials say. [Nhemz / Shutterstock]
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The delta variant is becoming more prevalent in the Cleveland area, but officials say they are not seeing surges in cases, hospitalizations or deaths like in other states.

The variant does not seem to be a stronghold in Ohio like it is in other states, such as Missouri, where cases and hospitalizations are surging due to delta, said Dr. Daniel Rhoads, section head of microbiology at Cleveland Clinic.

“We’re seeing, definitely, an increase in the proportion of samples that have the delta variant,” Rhoads said. “Overall, our absolute numbers, thankfully, at the moment, are very low.”

Nationally, the variant makes up half of all new COVID-19 cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The variant strain is showing up more frequently in Cleveland-area hospitals analyzing the variant strains. At University Hospitals, the variant accounted for 42 percent of cases in the lab recently, up from 7 percent a few weeks prior, UH officials said.

In Cleveland Clinic’s labs, delta is accounting for 20 percent of cases, Rhoads said. 

But in Ohio, delta’s presence is still low, said Alicia Shoults, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

Shoults did not have information about which counties are seeing more delta spread than others.

“The numbers are pretty small to be able to localize it in any area,” Shoults said.

Health officials will provide more details about the delta variant’s spread in Ohio in a news conference Wednesday, Shoults added.

Cases continue to trend downward, and hospitalizations and deaths are also decreasing, according to ODH data.

In Cuyahoga County, 111 cases were reported last week, according to data from the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.

COVID-19 cases being sent to Cleveland Clinic’s labs for sequencing are at an all-time low, Rhoads added.

The low numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths being reported in the area could be due in part to the county’s vaccination rate, he said. Half of Cuyahoga County’s population is fully vaccinated, according to ODH data.

Rhoads is concerned for Ohio counties with low vaccination rates.

“I anticipate that’s going to be a real problem come this winter, or whenever the next surge is, because the vaccines have proved to be very effective,” Rhoads said. “The vaccines are great if people get them. If they don’t get them, I do think it’ll be troublesome for communities.”

All three vaccines currently authorized in the U.S. seem to protect well against delta, he said.

The delta variant has accounted for one in five cases in Region 5 of the CDC’s dashboard, which includes Ohio and five nearby states, according to the most recent data from the CDC.

However, that data has not been updated for several weeks, Rhoads said.

“I think it’s going to continue to trend upward, so it’s probably higher than that,” Rhoads said.

Both Rhoads and Shoults said it is difficult to determine delta’s prevalence in the state due to lags in sequencing data. After a sample is sent to a lab, it can take three to four weeks to sequence and analyze, Shoults said.

Since January, the delta variant has accounted for 1.5 percent of all variants tracked by ODH, Shoults added.

Current research shows the delta strain is more contagious and may cause more severe symptoms, which is why health officials nationwide are concerned about this variant in particular, he added.

“There are anecdotes and there are thoughts that it does cause worse disease, and definitely more disease in younger individuals, but we’re still trying to sort out all the information,” Rhoads said.

In response to the increase of delta cases internationally and in the U.S., Pfizer is seeking authorization of a booster shot of its COVID-19 vaccine to increase immunity. Both local and national officials have said a booster shot is not necessary yet.

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