Despite having a lower population, COVID-19 cases in Columbiana County are currently three times more likely to send residents to the hospital than the rest of the Mahoning Valley.

The Ohio Department of Health reported a single-day high of 15,989 COVID-19 cases on Thursday—shattering the previous high of 12,865 that was reported on Wednesday. There were also 345 new hospitalizations statewide.

Regardless of population, the lowest hospitalization rates come in counties where more than 50% of residents are vaccinated. According to statistics from the Ohio Department of Health, there have been 124 new cases and three hospitalizations in Columbiana County since Monday. The county has a population of roughly 102,000. 

The three hospitalizations show that 2.4% of current cases have sent people to the hospital. Only 46% of people in the county have begun the vaccination process. 

Meanwhile in Mahoning County, there have been 481 cases and four hospitalizations since Monday. Their hospitalization rate is 0.8% for the week. About 57% of the county's 228,700 residents have received part or completed vaccination. 

Trumbull County follows a similar trend, reporting 332 new cases and two hospitalizations in the same timeframe. The current hospitalization rate is 0.6% and 54% of its 198,000 residents have been given at least one dose of the vaccine.

So how does a county with a more rural and spread out population have higher hospitalization rates? Dr. Ben Neuman, a virologist at Texas A&M and Ohio native, has an answer: vaccines and Thanksgiving. 

"Imagine one big tri-county family Thanksgiving dinner," he said. "Some people are vaccinated and get the virus, while others who get it are not. Everyone continues to go about their life following the holiday. COVID gets spread among their populations and cases rise."

Neuman said the effectiveness of vaccines continues to lower chances of serious illness from COVID-19, which increases chances of hospitalization.

"Depending on those counties and the amount of people vaccinated, there is limited spread because of the vaccine," he said. The vaccinated population will not get as sick, but the unvaccinated will."

That means those who are more likely to get sick may become ill enough to be hospitalized, and Neuman said that explains the situation in Columbiana County.

Neuman works closely with COVID-19 samples and said a lot of its spread comes from the virus' often overlooked quality of randomness, unpredictability and the bad luck of catching it.

He also said that while the number of rising cases throughout the country comes from the Omicron variant, the little data available suggests that the vaccine is effective against it.

There have been no deaths in Columbiana, Mahoning or Trumbull Counties this week.