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Cincinnati, NKY could be 'OK' as new variants spread

medical mask

As two new variants emerge in the U.S. and federal mask mandates are being lifted, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue trending toward the lowest numbers seen during the pandemic.

The BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 variants (subvariants of omicron) are now dominant across the U.S. Several regions are starting to see cases rise again, including New England and Washington, D.C. However, Greater Cincinnati is still seeing cases and hospitalizations decline following surges seen in January.

Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman says the CDC is reporting 85% of all COVID cases are the BA.2 variant and that it's probably the same case for cases in the region. However, he notes current trends locally are going in the right direction.

"When we look at our hospitalizations and our intensive care unit admissions, they are either flat or on the decline, which I think is a good sign that we are going to be OK as we see this new variant make its way throughout our community," Kesterman said.

As of April 15, 68 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized within the region. Of those, eight people were in the ICU and six were on ventilators. Greater Cincinnati's positivity rate is at 2%.

In Northern Kentucky, only 138 active cases of COVID-19 are confirmed as of Monday. Northern Kentucky Health Department Interim Director Steve Divine says things are looking much better within the region, but the case numbers may be affected by at-home test kits.

"Public health doesn't get the results of at-home test kits, so the only numbers we're seeing right now as far as positive cases are the ones that are actually going through the reporting system, which means at your doctor's office or a lab, those PCR type tests, some of the rapid tests, but not the at-home test kits," Devine said. "A lot of people do their own tests and if they come back positive, then they stay home until they're better."

The CDC strongly encourages everyone who uses a self-test to report any positive results to their health care provider.

The federal travel mask mandate will no longer be enforced after a federal judge ruled against it on Monday. Divine says people who are concerned about contracting COVID, especially immunocompromised individuals, should still consider mask wearing going forward.

"But otherwise, I think we're at a spot where we'll keep an eye on things and if we need to change messaging because of a change in circumstances, we'll do that," Divine said. "But at this point, if you haven't been vaccinated, get vaccinated, and get boosted if you haven't already. That's really the consistent message. For the foreseeable future, that's what it's going to be."

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.