Highland County received a notice earlier this week of its first confirmed B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant (U.K. Variant) case in a county resident, according to Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner.
He said the ability to monitor COVID-19 variants is “still fairly limited” and it’s likely other U.K. variants have arrived and are still arrving.
“As we have discussed in the past, an RNA virus replicates itself rapidly and different strains can occur often,” Warner said. “Usually, these different strains behave the same as the original virus, but occasionally, a change can occur with the potential to cause public health problems.”
He said there are three reasons they watch for new variants, from a public health perspective are because they’re more infectious than previous strains, they can cause more serious illness than previous strains, and it is harder to test and treat with medication or prevent with vaccines than previous strains.
Warner said the U.K. Variant has been linked with about 50 percent increased rates of transmission and a “likely” increase in illness severity.
In terms of vaccinations, Warner said earlier this week that Highland County currently has 7,742 residents, or 17.94 percent of its population, vaccinated. He said that is “well below” the state’s average of 25.22 percent.
“With vaccination rates of approximately 55% for those 70 and over in Highland County, we should see a reduction in hospitalization and death rates even if we see a sustained increase in case rates,” Warner said. “Our vaccination rates for our older population are still significantly lower than the state average vaccination rates, which places more people at risk for future COVID-19 infection.”
He said something on everyone’s mind is where the ceiling for vaccinations will be for the Highland County population. He said the county is having difficulty filling clinics and he doesn’t know what to expect when it opens to people over 18. He said there are many unknowns, but that his guess is “that over time Highland County will continue to lag farther and farther behind the state vaccination average as our local demand for vaccine dries up, while other areas of the state have more interested people.”
According to Ohio Department of Health Public Health Advisory System, last updated Thursday, Highland County has 189.99 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on a 14-day average. It is also still in a “Red” Level 3 Public Emergency, meaning there is “very high exposure and spread” in the county and people should limit their activities as much as possible.
Reach Jacob Clary at 937-402-2570.