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Doctors are worried about how COVID, flu season could impact Ohio's hospitals this winter

One emergency room physician says he is 'terrified of what might come to pass' this winter.

CLEVELAND — It's beginning to look like the worst of the Delta surge has passed.

Nationally, new COVID-19 infections are down 40% since peak levels a month ago. 

"I strongly suspect that you're going to start seeing the deaths go down similar to the hospitalizations," NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

Here in Ohio, hospital rates haven't changed much since the end of September. About 13% percent of the state's hospital beds are filled with coronavirus patients, mostly unvaccinated.

COVID-19 IN OHIO: State reports 2,936 new cases in the last 24 hours

However, when temperatures drop, cold and flu season might make things worse. 

"I'm honestly, in no hyperbole, terrified of what might come to pass in December, January, February around here," Emergency Room physician Dr. Rob Davidson said, "because, truly, that's when we see people all heading inside and getting together."

But by the end of the year, there may be a new weapon in the fight against COVID. Merck has requested Emergency Use Approval for it's anti-viral pill that would prevent the virus from replicating, and studies show if taken when symptoms begin, it cuts hospitalizations and deaths in half.

Merck already promised nearly two million courses to the U.S., if approved. According to The New York Times, a five-day course of the medication will cost the federal government about $700 per patient, a third of the current cost of monoclonal antibodies.

Pfizer is working on a similar pill which also may be available by winter, but the best weapon is already available.

"Maybe this will keep you out of the hospital to the tune of 50% reduced risk," NBC News Medical Contributor Dr. Vin Gupta explained. "Nothing like the vaccines, which are 90-plus percent effective at doing the same thing."

RELATED: Merck asks US FDA to authorize promising anti-COVID pill