CLEVELAND — Coronavirus cases in the United States have fallen to levels not seen since March 2020, and it's the same story in Ohio.
The state has reported an average of just 604 cases per day over the past three weeks, and testing positivity rates are down to their lowest levels of the pandemic. Here in the Cleveland area, Playhouse Square is gearing up for live theatre on Friday, and Indians game are back to 100% capacity.
"I do think it's time," University Hospitals Dr. Keith Armitage said of restrictions finally being lifted.
Armitage says the vaccines are working better than expected, and the hospital system is averaging just one new COVID patient every other day. For perspective, during the peak of the pandemic, it was up to 10 new patients every single day.
"The admissions in the last few weeks tend to be younger because people over 65 are getting the vaccine, and we aren't seeing nearly as many critical patients," Armitage explained.
The same thing is happening at the Cleveland Clinic, with fewer than 20 COVID patients in ICUs across the system.
"[It's a] Huge deal," Dr. Rahed Dweik said. "In December, the hospital numbers approached 1,000, and [in the] ICU … we approached almost 200, so that's definitely a huge change in a good direction."
Monday marked the end of a 12-week-long vaccination clinic at Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center. Experts say they expect case counts to stay low through the summer and potentially rise again in the fall when the weather cools and more people start to gather indoors.
"It's clear that transmission is much more likely indoors than outdoors, and we may see more cases," Armitage said. "But I think if we get to 70% of the population vaccinated and of the unvaccinated population, maybe ... one-third or a half will have had COVID, so I think we get to this mythical herd immunity by this summer."
Health officials, including Armitage, say increased vaccinations will prevent a widespread surge and increased hospitalizations like we saw this past winter.
"It's highly unlikely we will have a surge that will challenge the health care system," Armitage declared.
However, Armitage and others warn that could change if variants get out of hand. Currently, the vaccines have been shown to work well against a majority of the variants circulating in the U.S.