With the Omicron variant of the coronavirus circulating within Ohio and residents gathering for the holidays, health officials are urging Greater Cincinnatians to take COVID-19 safety precautions and get tested for the virus.
During a Dec. 15 media briefing with Hamilton County officials, Dr. Richard Lofgren — UC Health's president and CEO — said that COVID-19 continues to be a big threat within the region.
"If there's any message I have that's highlighted in the data, it's that this pandemic is not over. It is active and alive and is actually overwhelming our health systems," Lofgren said.
COVID-19 vaccination and testing are important ways to slow the spread of the virus, experts repeatedly have said.
"What you will find is that our week-over-week (COVID) numbers are similar to what we were seeing back last winter," Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus said. "Last year... when we were really in the throes of all of this, our numbers now are trending right up into that direction, and that is a terrible thing."
"That's why we continue to raise the alarm with people and encourage folks to do what we know works, which is get vaccinated and wear a mask around folks you don't know and perhaps are unvaccinated," she continued.
Driehaus said that 90% of people in the hospital with COVID-19 are not vaccinated.
"There are clear correlations here related to who's now going into the hospital now with serious illness and the lack of vaccine related to that population," Driehaus said.
Where to get free COVID-19 vaccines
Driehaus and Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman stressed that the county provides free COVID-19 vaccinations as well as free on-site and at-home testing kits. Vaccines are available to people ages 5 and up.
"There are so many great opportunities to get vaccinated here in Hamilton County," Kesterman said.
County residents can find free COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the region at malls, churches, pharmacies, health clinics and libraries. Some sites carry all three FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — while others carry only one or two brands. Many carry both adult and pediatric vaccines, as well as booster shots.
"The most popular and the most populated is the one at the (Hamilton County) Board of Elections. It's a very central site, it's very streamlined. You're in an out," Driehaus said.
Some locations welcome walk-up visits, while others request appointments. Visit testandprotectcincy.com for a map and more location information.
Where to get free COVID-19 tests
Hamilton County also has plenty of free COVID-19 testing opportunities, including rapid antigen tests that residents can administer within their own home.
"We continue to put a lot of emphasis on testing. Here at Hamilton County Public Health, we've been getting free test kits from the Ohio Department of Health, and we're distributing those to a variety of locations," Kesterman said.
At-home test kits are available at Hamilton County Public Health's office at 250 William Howard Taft as well as at select Hamilton County library locations and some YMCA branches. Kesterman also noted that the agency has begun to provide tests to the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio for community distribution.
Residents also can receive PCR COVID-19 tests at a number of pharmacies and clinics, including at CVS and Walgreens. There is no cost for any COVID-19 test administered to residents or workers within the county. Find more information and vaccine locations at testandprotectcincy.com.
Some vaccination and testing sites may have special hours during the holiday season. Check with individual sites before going.
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