After Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s Wednesday announcement regarding two forthcoming orders — one of which will revise the previous mask mandate — Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner revisited the purpose of masks in limiting COVID-19 spread.
In a Friday Facebook post, Warner summarized “a very detailed review of over 100 studies related to mask use.”
“There was a lot of confusion about masks as source control early on,” Warner wrote. “Even government agencies contradicted themselves. This was confusing for everyone. Science gets better over time, and we need to learn and adjust as new and better information becomes available.
“There is now convincing evidence from scientifically controlled studies that show masks are effective as source control in preventing COVID-19 spread. Much of this evidence is from new studies that were completed in recent months and is specific to COVID-19.
“Cloth masks stop respiratory droplets from spreading as easily as without a mask.
“Masks are safe for nearly everyone, except for those with respiratory problems and some other conditions. There are no significant or common dangers to wearing one.”
Warner said he hoped this information would change “the continuing narrative around mask use.”
“Masks are not a political issue, they are not a sign of submission, they are not an assault on personal liberty. They are a temporary measure aimed at reducing disease transmission. That really is it, no other secret agenda,” Warner wrote. “We simply want to slow down disease rates until we have better tools available to keep people healthy. Vaccines are on the way, and the end of masks shouldn’t be far behind.
“There is a lot misinformation out there, and some very confident people talking about topics that they don’t understand well. Masks are not a silver bullet, and when people say things like, “If masks worked, then why do we still have new COVID-19 cases,” they have a very poor grasp of disease prevention. Masks have shown to be effective in reducing disease reproductive rates in communities, and we have ample scientific evidence to back this claim up. There was never an expectation that masks will eliminate all COVID-19 cases.”
Warner encouraged community members to consult “reputable, educated, and reliable sources.”
“It is easy to have an opinion, but it takes a lot of effort to have a well-informed one,” Warner wrote.
Warner also addressed changes in contact tracing locally on Friday.
Beginning Friday, the Highland County Health Department implemented an automated case investigation survey, which asks newly diagnosed COVID-19-positive patients for information, in order to allow nursing staff to “focus their limited in-person phone time on cases with higher risk factors.”
Health department staff can still speak directly with those who are uncomfortable with completing the survey in this manner, though there will be a delay due to the volume of cases.
Warner reported Wednesday that the health department is “really struggling to keep up with quarantines and quarantine letters for everyone.” He asked Highland County residents who know they have been exposed to COVID-19 to enter quarantine on their own. Health department staff will contact them when they can.
Quarantine lasts 14 days from the last point of contact with a COVID-19-positive person.
Warner also urged community members to stay home when they are sick.
In other local news, Warner reported Friday that the number of cases in the county has slightly decreased from last week.
Warner added, ”Hospitalizations continue to increase with no indication that things are peaking. I don’t say this to frighten people, but it is concerning. I am actually afraid we will run out of healthy healthcare workers before we run out of beds.
“Some people try to point to increased testing as the reason for increased positive cases and claim that this whole thing is artificially created. I think that the situation in our urban hospitals clearly demonstrates that we are seeing a large increase in hospitalizations, which clearly indicates an increase in sick people. This is not the result of more testing, or the result of more false positives from antigen tests, or combined testing of COVID/Flu/Strep. These are real people with COVID-19 that are going to the hospital.”
In news from the state, DeWine announced Thursday that the state is setting aside $30 million to assist local health departments. In addition to state-hired contact tracers, each local health department will receive $200,000. Health departments will have the flexibility to determine how to best use the funds as they see fit to fight COVID-19.
The following are Highland County’s overall COVID-19 statistics as of Friday:
Highland County has had a total of 817 lab-confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, according to the Highland County Health Department.
The health department reported that there were 120 actively sick patients and seven COVID-19-related hospitalizations, and the health department is monitoring 474 Highland County residents for symptoms.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak reached Highland County, there have been a total of 52 COVID-19-related hospitalizations and 18 COVID-19-related deaths, and 679 patients have recovered from COVID-19.
As of Thursday, Highland County remained a “red” county with high case incidence, according to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System (OPHAS).
“Red” counties, which OPHAS also classifies as level 3 public emergencies, have “very high” COVID-19 exposure and spread.
According to OPHAS, 68 out of 88 Ohio counties are currently “red” counties — an increase from 56 counties last week — and all 88 counties in Ohio have high case incidences as defined by the CDC as of Thursday.
Two counties are on a watch list as they are approaching level 4 public emergencies.
Only one Ohio county remains a “yellow” level 1 county, or the lowest rating, according to OPHAS.
According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), which reported 772 cumulative cases in the county as of Friday, of the cases in Highland County:
* 127 cases involved 60- to 69-year-olds. Of these cases, nine resulted in hospitalization, and two resulted in death.
* 125 cases involved 50- to 59-year-olds. Of these cases, eight resulted in hospitalization.
* 103 cases involved 70- to 79-year-olds. Of these cases, 16 resulted in hospitalization, and four resulted in death.
* 97 cases involved 40- to 49-year-olds. Of these cases, six resulted in hospitalization.
* 94 cases involved 20- to 29-year-olds. Of these cases, one resulted in hospitalization.
* 84 cases involved 0- to 19-year-olds. Of these cases, one resulted in hospitalization.
* 77 cases involved 30- to 39-year-olds. Of these cases, one resulted in hospitalization.
* 63 cases involved someone 80 years old or older. Of these cases, ten resulted in hospitalization, and ten resulted in death.
* Two cases involved patients of an unknown age.
Warner previously stated that there is a delay in the reporting process between individual counties and the ODH.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.