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Health

Hamilton County commissioners declare state of emergency over COVID cases

coronavirus covid-19
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The omicron variant is widespread in the Cincinnati area. Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman reports a third of local COVID tests are coming back positive. As of Tuesday, 958 people are hospitalized locally; 170 of those are in ICUs, and 126 are on ventilators.

Kesterman says 97% of people hospitalized with COVID are not fully vaccinated. "The number one message here though: if you're feeling sick, if you have that cold-like symptom, I would just ask that you stay home. If you feel like you have a cold, you probably have COVID right now," he says.

Hamilton County commissioners approved an emergency declaration to address the rising number of COVID cases. County administrator Jeff Aluotto says the declaration streamlines the county's purchase process for 60 days, and makes it easier to seek reimbursement from the federal government. He says it will also help with public messaging.

"I think more than anything, getting it into peoples' heads throughout the community that this is serious and that this is something we need to take every action we can to prevent the spread of the virus," Aluotto says.

Hamilton County has 28,500 active COVID cases, but health officials admit that number may be low. Some people testing positive at home may not be reporting their results.

Commissioner Alicia Reece says she would have added more to the declaration because COVID isn't the only issue.

"We have an emergency as it relates to people about to lose their homes, about to be put out of their homes for being in a backlog for rental assistance. That's a state of emergency," Reece says. "Gas and electric getting ready to be cut off in the winter, that's a state of emergency."

Reece says some people approved for rental assistance and other aid haven't received it. She's calling for a report to get backlogs cleared up within 60 days.

Commission President Stephanie Summerow Dumas says the emergency declaration will enhance getting aid out.

Hamilton County could restart the Test and Protect program, or something like it. Funding for the original COVID testing program ran out at the end of last year, but commissioners earmarked $1.5 million for testing. County administrator Aluotto says the county also has out a request for proposals.

"That RFP is due back on the 19th, next week," he said. "So once we award that, we will then again have sites available, using county funding, country-controlled sites, that we will offer PCR testing to people in the community."

Hamilton County is looking into buying rapid tests for public distribution. So far, availability has depended on what the county receives from the state.