COVID-19 update— Cases rise in Greene County
- Published: October 19, 2020
Note: The day after this article went to print, Greene County was elevated to “red” on the state’s color-coded Public Health Advisory System. Read more about the change here. An additional update on COVID-19 in the county will appear in the Oct. 22 print issue of the News (read it online here).
Greene County residents are riding a rollercoaster — one that mostly goes up.
COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the county. The virus was slow to take hold here, but the county saw a spike in June, a larger spike in July, some moderating in August and a surge beginning in late August that hasn’t let up.
The virus’ spread has increased through the fall, intensifying in recent weeks, according to Greene County Public Health epidemiologist Don Brannen in a recent interview.
“The past two to three weeks are the highest we’ve seen since the pandemic started,” he said.
One measure of that is the seven-day moving average of new cases, tracked by the News since late March. The county was adding about one case daily until late June, when the number jumped to four. By mid-July, the seven-day moving average was about 15, which held with some dips up and down until early September. Since then, the figure has risen steadily, with the most recent seven-day moving average topping 28.
That means the county is now adding, on average, at least 28 new infections of COVID-19 each day.
Greene County saw its highest single day of infections last Thursday, Oct. 8, with 52 cases added to the county tally. The next day, Ohio as a whole had its highest single day, with 1,840 new cases.
As of Monday, Oct. 12, Ohio has reported 170,179 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with Greene County contributing a total of 1,890 confirmed and probable cases. Half of the Greene County cases were added in the last six weeks, according to tracking by the News — another indicator of the virus’ spread this fall.
Over 5,000 Ohioans have died of the illness to date, including 38 residents of Greene County.
In a press briefing in Dayton on Friday, Oct. 9 — an addition to his regularly scheduled Tuesday and Thursday briefings — Gov. Mike DeWine sounded an alarm over the spread of infection in the western part of the state, including Greene County.
“We have a western Ohio problem,” he said.
According to DeWine at the briefing, 10 of the 12 counties with the highest recent rises in COVID-19 cases are located in western Ohio.
Greene County currently ranks 14th among Ohio’s 88 counties for per capita new cases during the second half of September, according to a Sept. 30 report from the Ohio Department of Health, or ODH. The county added 229 cases between Sept. 16 and Sept. 29, or 135.6 cases per 100,000 residents. While neighboring Clark County has more cases and a lower population overall, Greene County added more cases during late September, the data show.
According to Brannen, Greene County now has 468 active cases, with an additional 300 people the county is contact tracing.
“It’s not a good time for public health workers,” he said.
Yellow Springs has contributed relatively few cases to the county rise. The village has two active cases this week, according to Police Chief Brian Carlson, up from one case last week. There have been about 20 confirmed or probable cases of the virus since the pandemic’s start, with one local death.
At Friday’s briefing, DeWine said there is “no one reason” why the virus is spreading in western Ohio. He cited laxness in social distancing, mask-wearing and large group gatherings as the main factors behind recent case increases.
“People are simply not being cautious,” he said.
Greene County in context
According to Brannen, new cases at long-term care facilities and colleges and universities have driven up case numbers in Greene County in recent weeks.
Mass testing within the past three weeks uncovered clusters of cases at Wright Rehab and Cedarville University, he said. Wright Rehab, a rehabilitation and health care facility in Fairborn, had 55 cases, while Cedarville University had 51. Many of the involved individuals are now coming off isolation and quarantine.
Brannen cautioned against holding specific organizations or individuals responsible, citing the opportunistic nature of the virus, which can spread rapidly, and asymptomatically, after being introduced into a group of people.
“We try to take the ‘blame game’ out of it,” he said of the health district’s approach.
The current rise continues the COVID-19 surge noted by Greene County Public Health in September. That surge was attributable to clusters of cases at three other long-term care facilities, as well as cases among students from out-of-county universities isolating at home and some cases at colleges and universities in the county, according to a Sept. 14 press release from the health district.
By contrast, earlier surges in June and July were due to travel, family gatherings and community spread, according to Brannen at the time.
While COVID-19 was slow to enter the county’s long-term care facilities, at least relative to neighboring counties such as Clark, all but two of Greene County’s 21 facilities have had at least one case, and several have had significant clusters.
Brannen was optimistic about the health district’s work with the county’s nursing homes and other long-term care centers on mass testing and contact tracing to prevent and contain the virus’ spread.
“We’ve got that piece under wraps,” he said.
Significantly, Yellow Springs’ Friends Care Community has yet to see its first case. The facility has tested all staff weekly for five weeks — a total of 425 tests — with no positives to date, according to Executive Director Mike Montgomery this week. Residents are tested based on signs and symptoms, or possible exposure through a doctor’s appointment or hospital visit. No residents have tested positive, Montgomery said.
Montgomery credited the care and precautions taken by the Friends Care workers on and off the job, writing in an email that the facility has “great staff who are taking this pandemic and protecting our residents’ safety very seriously.”
As for colleges and universities, Brannen said Greene County Public Health has been working closely with area institutions through the fall to test and contact trace students.
“We’re casting a pretty wide net and quarantining lots of students,” he said. The health district is now working toward targeted quarantining, involving fewer students with closer exposure, partly to ensure that “people take it seriously,” he added.
Wright State University has seen 44 student cases and three staff cases since the return to campus this fall, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, which notes that the data is “self-reported.” Active cases as of Oct. 12 include 19 students and three staff.
Locally, Antioch College has not seen a single case, according to college spokesperson Christine Reedy this week. The college held its second campus-wide testing on Sept. 29 and Oct. 2, with no positives among students, staff or faculty. All people who live or work on campus are required to be tested, Reedy said.
Children and schools
In contrast to long-term care facilities and colleges and universities, K–12 schools have contributed relatively few cases to the current rise, according to Brannen.
There have been a total of 16 student cases and 11 staff cases across all of Greene County’s public and parochial schools since the start of the school year, according to the most recent state reporting on Oct. 8. Yellow Springs is the only school district in the county that opted for 100% remote learning this fall. Along with the majority of schools in the county so far, Yellow Springs has yet to report a single case this school year.
Brannen said common routes of exposure in area schools are through staff members or students or staff associated with sports teams.
Children currently constitute a small portion of the county’s overall cases.
“A lot of what we’re seeing is associated with adults, not kids,” Brannen said.
There have been a total of 143 cases among children under 18 in Greene County since the pandemic started, according to state data. Forty-three percent of those are among older children, ages 14 through 17. Statewide, that age group is the largest segment of the 11,480 cases among Ohio children reported so far.
Brannen added that the one demographic that stands out to him is 15- to 24-year-olds in Bath Township, where Fairborn is located. That age group has been adding one to three cases per day to the county total since mid-September, he said.
Cases in Greene County Jail
Not included in any county figures are cases among incarcerated people. Cases in prisons are reported separately by the state, and cases in jail are not publicly reported at all.
Yet jail cases are of deep concern to activists and family and friends of those incarcerated because of the potential for high rates of infection within jails, and the spread of those infections to the surrounding community.
A friend of an individual in Greene County Jail, who preferred to remain anonymous because she was pursuing legal action connected with her friend’s incarceration, told the News she was deeply concerned that nonviolent offenders were being sentenced to jail during the pandemic.
“You’re risking people’s lives,” she said.
The News reported in July that Greene County Jail had two COVID-19 cases, one an inmate transferred to a state facility who tested positive there in late May, and one a jail staff member tested in a subsequent contact tracing investigation.
From June through late September, the jail saw no further COVID-19 cases, according to Jail Commander Major Kirk Keller, though the jail did not perform mass testing during that time. Then on Sept. 24, an inmate held at the Adult Detention Center, the county’s minimum/medium-security facility, tested positive for the virus. Three more inmates tested positive during subsequent contact tracing conducted by the county health district. Another inmate tested positive on Oct. 6, with a second positive case turned up by contact tracing.
According to Keller, the jail has seen a total of six inmates with the virus as of Oct. 12 (not including the inmate who did not test positive until he was out of jail custody). In addition, a total of eight corrections officers have tested positive for COVID-19.
“I think we’ve done a good job [in preventing further infections], but I want to be humble in this,” he said.
There have been no hospitalizations, and some inmates and staff have already, or will soon, come out of isolation and quarantine, Keller said.
While the jail did not previously require masks of employees and inmates, it now does. Inmates must wear masks outside of their own beds and when they are being moved around the facility, according to Keller.
The News will follow up in a future issue with a more detailed update about COVID-19 and the county jail.
Greene County remains at alert level two, or orange, on the state’s four-level system, indicating “increased exposure and spread.” [That level was increased to red on Thursday, Oct. 15.] Three indicators are currently present: significant increases in new cases per capita; more than 50% of cases occurring outside of congregate living facilities during one of the past three weeks; and an uptick in outpatient visits related to COVID-19 symptoms.
It seems likely the county will stay at its current level this fall, Brannen said.
While hospitalizations are up somewhat across the state, Ohio is still far from experiencing the health care surge feared by state officials in the spring. This is true in Greene County as well.
A recent prevalence study released by the ODH suggests that the true prevalence of COVID-19 is 3.5 times greater than reported cases in Ohio. For Greene County, that means that up to 8,000 people may have had the virus, according to Brannen.
Yet that’s still less than 5% of the county population — and far less than the 50% threshold for herd immunity, he said, a figure that some believe is actually higher.
That means county residents will need to continue to live with the virus until an effective vaccine is developed and made widely available, Brannen said.
“Don’t let your guard down,” he advised.
That has been a theme sounded by local officials at recent public meetings. Village Council President Brian Housh at Council’s regular Oct. 5 meeting stressed the ongoing importance of wearing a mask in public, per Ohio and village law, to protect oneself and others.
“If you think you can get around wearing masks, you’re wrong,” he said, adding that getting regular COVID-19 tests is not a substitute for mask-wearing.
“Continuing not to follow this puts all community members at risk,” he stated.
While local police haven’t issued any citations for violators of the village’s mask ordinance, officers have encouraged mask-wearing and given out about 3,000 face masks to date, according to Chief Carlson.
As one indicator that the community is living with the virus, Friends Care reopened this week for indoor visitation under specific protections, having been closed to the public since March. But the reopening was brief — after learning that a health care worker who had visited the center the week prior tested positive for COVID-19, Friends Care decided to reschedule visits for the following week rather than risk infection. Barring other hitches, the center will begin allowing visits on Tuesday, Oct. 20. Full policies and procedures are available at friendshealthcare.org/covid-19.
The indoor reopening is federally and state mandated based on criteria including a facility’s lack of COVID-19 cases and positivity rates (the percentage of positive tests) in the surrounding community, according to Montgomery. Friends Care continues not to allow outdoor visitation as an ongoing precaution, he added.
Window visits — the now-familiar practice of visiting friends and family members at their windows — remain as welcome as ever.