Highland County is currently seeing an average of about 3.4 new COVID-19 cases a day or around 23.8 a week, according to an update from the Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner.
In a news release late last week, Warner said new case rates are 100 percent higher than what the county was seeing two weeks ago and that the country is seeing an upward trend in case count as well. Warner also said the county’s seven-day per capita case rate in the update was 50.97, which put it in the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) “Substantial” category for disease spread.
He said the positivity testing rate for the region increased from less than 1 percent in early July to 3.3 percent as of the update.
Warner said that hospitalizations in Ohio and regionally are increasing and have saw a “steady increase” since mid-July. He said overall hospital capacity is still “in good shape” but that the current trends are concerning and something that must be watched closely.
“Hospitalization is a lagging indicator, meaning that we expect to see increases in hospitalization a little after we see an increase in cases,” Warner said.
Warner said the Delta strain for COVID-19 was identified in “multiple counties” in the region and that the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has said it is the dominant strain in the state. He also said the strain is more infectious than previous ones and heard from ODH leadership it is 110 percent more infectious than the strain circulating at this time last year.
“Unlike during our largest outbreak back in the late fall and winter of 2020, we now have the ability to influence the answers to those questions,” Warner said. “We have a 30 percent vaccination rate in this county, the fourth lowest in the state. Our community has the ability to directly control how many more hospitalizations and deaths occur in Highland County. If we fail to increase our vaccination rates, then we have to be prepared to accept the consequences for our own inaction. When I look at disease predictions and models from other parts of the nation, and I am very concerned about the future health of our community. We are not well-positioned to withstand another significant wave of disease.”
Warner also gave insight into schools planning for COVID-19, saying the county continues to support full schedule, in-person schooling. He said the health department recommends all schools follow Ohio Department of Health and CDC guidelines for a safe return to schooling, and that they cover many areas for disease prevention.
“When HB 22 was passed, it greatly limited the Ohio Department of Health and a local the local health department’s ability to pass any orders that impact specific groups of people,” he said. “This places the responsibility for adopting public health policy with the local boards of education. Each board of education will need to develop and adopt their own policies on masking.”
Warner said the health department is “strongly recommending” schools tell parents the CDC recommendations on wearing masks in schools. He said those recommendations call for masks to be worn by everyone over the age of 2 in a school building. He also said that at the time of the update, all the schools in the county are planning to recommend mask usage in accordance with the ODH/CDC guidelines. However, he also said there would be no mandates or required mask usage except for when students are on the bus due to federal mandates in place for public transportation, making mask usage always required when on the bus.
Warner said the health department is talking about whether a certain threshold of cases should trigger a shift in the county’s schools requiring masks. He also said schools can decide on their own to enact a temporary masking period or other additional precautions if there are school or staff outbreaks.
“For example, it would be very reasonable for a local school district to cancel athletic practices, increase social distancing in classrooms, and require masks for a week in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases within a building,” he said. “The health department will be working with our schools throughout the coming year to monitor our disease rates and to adjust policies as needed with the shared goal of reducing disease impact and keeping in-person school in place.”
Reach Jacob Clary at 937-402-2570.