COVID-19 update— ‘There is no place to hide’ in Ohio
- Published: November 11, 2020
Note: Friends Care Community reported its first COVID-19 case last Tuesday, Nov. 3. The infected individual is a dietary employee and not a direct care giver. The News was notified of the case after the Nov. 5 paper went to print.
October brought a whirlwind of bad news about COVID-19 spread in Ohio.
New cases soared statewide, hospitalizations increased and more counties than ever flipped to “red” on the state’s COVID-19 heat map. By month’s end, nearly all of Ohio’s counties met federal definitions for “high incidence.” Meanwhile, the state’s positivity rate — percentage of positive tests — shot up, suggesting that not enough testing is being done to keep the virus in check. Though fewer people died of COVID-19 this month compared to the past several, deaths are a lagging indicator — so deaths tied to new cases will be seen in future, not current, data.
Greene County followed state trends, adding new infections at an even greater rate than the state as a whole in October, and seeing similar rises in hospitalizations. And while moving more slowly than state or county surges, Yellow Springs, too, is seeing case numbers edge up, along with evidence of increased spread here. Cases have now been publicly reported at Miami Township Fire-Rescue, Yellow Springs Schools, Antioch College and the Winds Cafe.
At a press briefing last Thursday, Oct. 29, Gov. Mike DeWine deployed his most forceful metaphors yet to warn Ohioans about the overall worsening situation.
“The virus is raging through the state of Ohio. There is no place to hide,” he said.
Community spread tied to family gatherings — rather than outbreaks at businesses or other venues — is driving up infections across Ohio, according to DeWine. He urged Ohioans to reconsider plans for upcoming holiday gatherings.
“Thanksgiving has to be different. Christmas has to be different,” he said.
DeWine also renewed his frequent calls to Ohioans to take proven steps to slow down the virus’ spread: wear face masks, keep social distancing, wash hands and improve ventilation indoors.
Adding to that advice was a caution from UC Health President and CEO Rick Lofgren, who spoke at last Thursday’s briefing. Ohioans should think twice before expanding their social “bubble,” according to Lofgren.
“Anyone new into your environment may be infected,” he said.
In Yellow Springs, the virus seems to be spreading more slowly than the state or county overall — but it is spreading.
Fire Chief Colin Altman, speaking at a Miami Township Trustees meeting on Monday, reported that five fire department personnel at the local firehouse — equivalent to “an entire shift” — have tested positive for COVID-19, with another two members awaiting the results of their test. The virus is “wreaking havoc” with local first responders, Altman added.
Summarizing the contact tracing for the infected individuals, Altman said one was infected by a friend from Cedarville University, while another possibly contracted the virus from another fire department, in turn infecting the three other individuals.
One of the individuals who tested positive was at the Halloween trick-or-treat drive-thru Saturday night, though the individual was not in direct contact with trick-or-treaters and was wearing a mask, according to Altman.
The local firehouse is shutting down to the public again as a result of the positive cases, Altman stated.
As further evidence of potential community spread, Altman also reported at Monday’s meeting that at least 50% of calls to the local fire department are possibly COVID-related. The actual outcome of such calls is unknown.
In other local COVID-19 developments, Antioch College and the local schools each reported their first case since the start of the school year.
According to a Nov. 2 press release from Antioch, a student recently tested positive for the illness and is currently isolating. Contact tracing is being conducted by the county health department. The college declined to answer a News question regarding how many individuals on campus are part of the health department’s contact tracing investigation.
The college has done two mass testing rounds of the campus community since late August, and in October moved to weekly “random sample testing” of 5% of students on campus, the press release stated.
Yellow Springs Schools reported its first staff case of the school year on Oct. 15, according to Superintendent Terri Holden in response to an email from the News this week.
The individual contracted the virus outside of school and had no contact with students, Holden clarified. No school employees were quarantined, and the infected individual completed isolation and is now back at work.
That staff case remains the only case listed for the Yellow Springs school district in the state’s weekly reporting of school cases.
Another indicator that the virus is edging more visibly into Yellow Springs was an announcement on Oct. 31 by the Winds Cafe that the restaurant has closed indefinitely due to a COVID case on staff.
The message posted that afternoon on the restaurant’s Facebook page read: “We have a positive test result for one of our beloved team members. We will be closed until we feel our restaurant and team members can be safe. Thanks for all the love and support.”
Later in the week, the Winds confirmed it was set to reopen on Thursday.
One local institution that has avoided COVID-19 cases so far is Friends Care Community. [This is no longer true. There is now one reported case at Friends Care. See note prefacing article.] According to Executive Director Mike Montgomery this week, the local facility has seen zero cases among staff and residents since the start of the pandemic. Staff are now being tested twice weekly, Montgomery stated.
The reopening of Friends Care for indoor visitation was announced several weeks ago, postponed because an outside hospice nurse had tested positive a week after visiting the facility, then halted indefinitely as of Oct. 15 due to Greene County’s elevation to “red” on the state’s COVID-19 heat map. Outdoor visitation remains suspended, but “window visits” are welcome.
Yellow Springs now stands at about 30 cases since the start of the pandemic. On a per capita basis, those 30 cumulative cases represent about 0.8% of the village population. By contrast, the current cumulative level of countywide cases represents about 1.8% of the county population.
The village added an estimated 10 cases during October. Because the county health department does not report cases by zip code, weekly case numbers for the village are somewhat imprecise. The News queries Police Chief Brian Carlson for weekly updates that derive from a first responder spreadsheet of local cases. That spreadsheet does not reflect cumulative cases, however, leading to some uncertainty about exact case totals here.
As of Tuesday, Nov. 3, Yellow Springs had two active cases, according to Carlson. That weekly number has been about typical for the village in recent months.
A closer look at state data
October saw the biggest surge of the pandemic so far in Ohio.
The state added 60,000 new COVID-19 infections last month alone. That figure is double the amount added in each of the prior two months, August and September, and about the same as the number of infections reported in the first four months of the pandemic, from mid-March to mid-July.
New cases scaled up swiftly throughout October. Seven-day moving averages of new cases increased significantly, from 1,081 on Oct. 1 to 2,842 on Oct. 31. The end of the month set an especially intense pace. In fact, a run of six days from Oct. 29 through Nov. 3 set the state record for the highest six days of new cases, with 3,590 on Oct. 29, 3,845 on Oct. 30 and, in a further dramatic uptick, 4,229 on Nov. 3 topping the chart for new cases in single days.
By Tuesday, Nov. 3, the state was reporting a total of 226,138 confirmed and probable cases of the illness since the start of the pandemic. Based on state figures for “presumed recovered” patients, the number of active cases statewide was over 52,000. That figure had hovered around 20,000 during August and September.
Hospitalizations also climbed during October. According to state numbers, 3,526 Ohioans were hospitalized for the illness last month, about 75% more than in September. Seven-day moving averages of new hospitalizations doubled, from 79 on Oct. 1 to 161 on Oct. 31.
A COVID-19 hospitalization chart from the state health department shows a steep slope through October, with hospitalizations reaching their highest level since the start of the pandemic by month’s end. The chart shows about 1,400 Ohioans were in the hospital due to COVID-19 on Oct. 26, the latest data available.
By contrast, deaths slowed down in October. State data shows 474 people died of COVID-19 last month, versus more than 600 during each of the prior two months.
COVID-19 testing rose during October to a high of 55,906 tests on Oct. 29, a step up of at least 10,000 from earlier days in the month. Yet the state’s positivity rate also grew last month, more than doubling from a seven-day moving average of 3.2% on Oct. 1 to 6.9% on Oct. 31.
Positivity is “going up like a rocket,” DeWine cautioned at last Thursday’s briefing. Rising positivity rates are one indicator that new case increases are due to the virus’ spread — not the result of more tests being performed, he stated.
In a holistic indicator of the extent of the virus’ spread, the number of “red” counties on the state’s COVID-19 heat map exploded from 11 on Sept. 30 to 43 on Oct. 29. Counties coded “red” are those that meet indicators for “very high exposure and spread.” At present, 78% of Ohioans live in a “red” county.
In addition, 83 out of 88 Ohio counties now meet the federal definition for “high incidence,” with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the prior two weeks.
Similar trends in Greene
Greene County is seeing similarly alarming trends.
“The trends are nationwide, especially in the Midwest — and we’re seeing them here,” Greene County Public Health employee Sheryl Wynn said this week. Wynn currently serves as the planning chief for the county’s COVID-19 response.
Transmission in the county is primarily one-to-one, “with one person spreading it to one other person,” she said. About one-third of cases are “household transmissions,” or situations in which an infected individual transmits the virus to another member of the household.
Data reported by the state health department shows Greene County added 1,170 new cases in October, up from 564 in September and 360 in August — an even stronger acceleration over that three-month period than Ohio as a whole.
The county’s seven-day moving average of new cases more than doubled last month, from 24.1 on Oct. 1 to 52 on Oct. 31. Those figures are based on the News’ tracking of state data. That means Greene County was adding, on average, about 52 cases of COVID-19 per day by the end of last month.
And in fact, that number has continued to climb in the first several days of November. The county saw its highest single day of new cases on Monday, Nov. 2, with 75 cases added that day.
Greene County has been coded “red” on the state’s COVID-19 heat map for three weeks, beginning on Oct. 15. In the most recent week, the county showed four of seven concerning indicators, including — for the first time — new cases increase, a crucial measure that “reflects disease spread in the population,” according to the indicator description.
One component of that “red” designation is hospitalizations, which have been flagged by the state due to increases in all three of the past three weeks.
State data tracked by the News shows that Greene County saw 62 new COVID-19 hospitalizations in October, up from 39 during September and 35 during August.
While the county still has sufficient hospital capacity, increased hospitalizations due to COVID-19 on top of the regular seasonal flu are cause for concern, according to Wynn.
“The numbers are going in the wrong direction,” she said.
As of Tuesday, Nov. 3, the state was reporting that Greene County has had a total of 2,972 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. There are currently 877 ongoing active cases in the county, according to Greene County Public Health epidemiologist Don Brannen on Tuesday.
And a total of 45 people have died of the illness in Greene County, including eight reported in October — a step-down from a previous spike in deaths, of 15, reported in September. One of the early county deaths was a Yellow Springs resident, the only known COVID-19 death in the village to date.
Where the county and state will go from here is unclear.
Despite sounding escalating alarms at recent briefings, DeWine has yet to propose any new state orders to contain the virus. Last Thursday, he called on county leaders to mobilize “COVID defense teams” to assess the situation in their individual counties and take steps to slow down the virus’ spread.
“We have to come together to fight this invader,” DeWine said.
Such a team has begun to be assembled in Greene County following a call with the governor on Monday, according to Wynn this week.
Yet across the state and county last month, surging infections suggested that the “invader” was — at least temporarily — winning.
*Carol Simmons contributed reporting.