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Ohio watches growing coronavirus cases for omicron variant

Ohio is seeing a concerning increase in cases and hospitalizations. It’s not just beds filling up – but a shortage in staff that's compounding the effects.

CLEVELAND — Ohio’s laboratories and hospitals are sequencing positive coronavirus PCR tests, looking for the omicron variant.

“Could it be here and we've not yet detected it? Of course, that's possible,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff with Ohio Department of Health. “What we do know is if it were present in any substantial manner, it would, we would be detecting it.”

Instead he said, “What we're seeing right now today in the state, it is being driven by the delta variant and various slight variations of that family of viruses.”

Thursday's state health news conference, along with the White House, stressed that the time for a booster is now.

“Getting your booster shot, bumps that immunity right back up and actually creates a window of time where you're even unlikely to develop mild, symptomatic disease,” said Dr. Vanderhoff.

Under President Biden’s new winter guidelines, the focus is on prevention, not on lockdowns. Testing is becoming easier and more important.

All international travelers must be tested within 24 hours of their departure, instead of the current 72. The president says at-home testing will be free, fully covered by insurance, and easier to find in the community.

RELATED: Biden details winter plan for combating COVID-19, omicron variant

Summit County has already been doing that, handing out more than 30,000 rapid tests, purchased by the state, at its office, vaccine and testing drive-thrus, libraries and community centers. They just got another shipment of 4,000 tests to hand out, so people keep at home, and more importantly, use them.

“We used to sneeze, have a cold, go to work and not care,” said Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda. “And now every time you sneeze, you know, you're like, ‘Do I have COVID?’ and now, you're far more nervous. So if you had to pay $20 bucks in the store, every time you wanted to test, I don't think people would test as much. Being free makes it just an easy way for people to find out.”

Her message is stock up: “So you don't wait to get a test and you don't wait two or three days to see if your symptoms get worse…and if you need to use three or four of them, we're happy!”

Ohio is seeing a concerning increase in cases and hospitalizations, particularly in our part of the state. It’s not just beds filling up – but a shortage in staff that’s compounding the effects.

RELATED: COVID-19 in Ohio: State reports 9,131 new cases in the last 24 hours

“We are feeling it here in Cleveland,” said Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Steven Gordon. “We are feeling that wash, and it is affecting care. I think if you look at emergency room, wait times, you probably have people that are abandoning care. So we're seeing that critical point.”

It’s not a time to let your guard down. But still, doctors stress, we're in better shape than we were a year ago, because of the vaccine, the availability of testing, and advances in treatments.

“It's been a community effort across the board. Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Summa, Aultman…St E's over in Youngstown, all working together to try and make sure the patients are cared for as best they can,” said Dr. Andrew Thomas, with the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

You can watch Thursday's Ohio Department of Health briefing below:

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