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COVID numbers are low across Greater Cincinnati. Will winter change that?

a woman wears a mask and a black puffer coat walks down a street in new york
Mark Lennihan
A woman wears a mask Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, during the very early days of the pandemic in New York.

COVID cases are declining across the region, health experts say. But we're also nearing peak season for respiratory illness — meaning the virus is not entirely in our rearview yet.

University of Cincinnati Infectious Disease expert Dr. Carl Ficthenbaum says the public should be prepared for new COVID variants and an increase in cases as the weather gets colder and people congregate indoors more.

For now, the numbers are encouraging.

"Locally right now, COVID cases are declining, and they've been declining in most of Ohio right now. In neighboring Kentucky they've been a little higher. But we're really seeing a decrease in COVID activity right now."

That decline is likely due in part to new vaccines that address new variants of the virus like omicron. But those don't mean cases won't rise again.

"I don't think it's going to be quite as profound as last wintertime, when we saw a big increase with the emergence of the omicron variant," Fichtenbaum says. "But I won't be surprised if there is another variant that emerges during the winter season."

Hamilton County is seeing about 70 or 80 cases a day, Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman says. That's down quite significantly from the county's peak of 2,500 cases in the middle of January.

A look at Northern Kentucky

While case counts have been slightly higher in Northern Kentucky, COVID has been declining there as well. After a spike last month, Northern Kentucky Health Commissioner Steve Divine says data is encouraging. That's not just number of cases — it's also in hospitalizations, which have been significantly lower than their peak numbers for some time.

Divine says 30 to 40 people a day in Northern Kentucky are hospitalized for COVID now, down significantly from a peak of more than 200 a day. That again is due to those vaccines and the generally more moderate illness omicron often causes.

"Things are quite a lot more manageable now than they were some time ago," Divine says. "Hopefully we won't see anything drastically different as we head into the winter. I'm hopeful that we're in a good enough shape that it will be one of those illnesses you can just ride out."

Don't forget about flu season

While COVID isn't currently a big threat, another wave could come. In addition, other respiratory illnesses will likely also see rebounds this winter.

"We are anticipating seeing a flu season this year because people are no longer masking," Hamilton County's Kesterman says. Flu cases took a nose dive from past years during the winter season in many places due to anti-COVID measures.

Experts still urge caution — staying home if you get sick, getting the newest multivalent vaccines, masking where appropriate and getting tested if you feel ill.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.