COVID-19 cases mount in YS
- Published: December 5, 2020
The virus is in Yellow Springs.
While the village has lagged surrounding communities in its rate and spread of COVID-19, local organizations and businesses are beginning to see — and in some instances publicly announce — more positive cases here.
The Yellow Springs Police Department identified its first case on Tuesday, Nov. 24, with an officer reportedly testing positive for the virus. The individual had not been in contact with the public for the prior six days, and had followed masking and other safety precautions, according to Police Chief Brian Carlson.
The village’s other first responder agency, Miami Township Fire-Rescue, has reported a total of eight cases among personnel so far, with all cases emerging in October and November, Fire Chief Colin Altman said in a recent interview.
With infected firehouse personnel in isolation and others quarantined because of possible exposures connected to those cases, the agency was down by about one-quarter of its workforce at the peak, he added.
“It’s a challenge for a small department. We were scrambling to get shifts covered,” Altman said.
The department hasn’t seen any additional cases in the past two weeks, however, and all personnel have returned to work, Altman said Monday.
But the local fire-rescue department does routinely come into contact with people reporting symptoms of COVID-19 or who have tested positive. Up to 50% of its service calls, or an estimated 10 out of 25 weekly calls, involve potential cases of the virus, according to Altman.
Most of the individuals with symptoms turn out not to be positive, he said. But local first responders are now wearing enhanced safety gear, including N95 masks and safety goggles.
Overall, Altman has seen an uptick in cases on the weekly first responder spreadsheet compiled by Greene County Public Health. The spreadsheet lists local addresses where there are known positive cases. Over the past couple of months, that number has doubled from three to four on any given day to six to eight in Yellow Springs, according to Altman.
“Cases are definitely increasing here,” he said.
Examples of local cases that have come to light recently include a reported COVID-19 exposure at Peach’s Grill. The restaurant noted the case on its Facebook page on Nov. 15, and shut down temporarily. It remains closed as of early this week. The Winds Cafe had previously reported a case among its staff on Oct. 31, and closed for five days in response.
Friends Care Community on Nov. 13 identified a second COVID-19 case among its staff, according to Executive Director Mike Montgomery. Both that case and a previous one, identified about 10 days earlier, were dietary employees who had no direct contact with residents. To date, no residents have tested positive at Friends Care. Staff members are tested twice weekly, as federally mandated based on Greene County’s overall high positivity rate.
Nursing home cases are reported weekly by the Ohio Department of Health, or ODH, as part of its coronavirus dashboard. As of Nov. 18, the latest reporting date, there have been 488 total cases — staff and residents — in long-term care facilities in Greene County, just under 10% of the total number of cases in the county. And 33 people have died of the virus in area nursing homes. That represents about half of the county’s deaths.
School cases are also reported weekly on the ODH dashboard. As of Nov. 19, Ohio is reporting only one staff case at Yellow Springs Schools, dating back to mid-October, that meets its criteria for cases occurring on site. There have been no local student cases related to the school setting. Unlike most other schools in the county, Yellow Springs opted for remote learning for the first half of the school year, though some students are learning on site for part of the week. Countywide, there have been a total of 100 staff cases and 134 student cases that meet the state criteria.
Together, those reported cases represent about 5% of infections to date in Greene County.
Less visible to the public in terms of case reporting is another local institution, the Yellow Springs Community Library. The local library has seen one staff infection, which occurred in October, according to Executive Director Karl Colón, in response to a News inquiry. Across the Greene County Public Library system as a whole, there have been a total of six staff cases, five in October and one in July, Colón added.
None of those cases have been announced publicly because library contact tracing efforts, guided by Greene County Public Health, determined the infected staff did not expose other employees or patrons.
“If there were any public exposure, we would communicate that,” Colón said.
Such exposure would have to involve unmasked contact within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from two days before illness onset, Colón stated. That’s the definition of “close contact” that currently guides the library’s contact tracing investigations, yet it varies from the CDC definition. The CDC specifies that “the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.” In other words, facial masking isn’t a factor in determining “close contact.” Per policy, the Greene County Public Library currently requires all staff and patrons to wear face masks.
Asked about the discrepancy, Green County Public Health employee Kirsten Bean noted that she has seen confusion about the CDC guidelines, which have been updated throughout the pandemic.
“[T]here has been some confusion on this and the guidelines are continually being updated as we learn more about transmission of COVID,” she wrote in an email, noting the possibility of some organizations “operating with old guidelines.”
Another local entity, the Yellow Springs Post Office, is not reporting any cases as of this week. Contacted by the News on Tuesday, Postmaster Rob Dunn said there have been no positive cases and no tests of employees.
All told, there have been around 40 cases of virus in Yellow Springs, based on News estimates from weekly check-ins regarding the cases listed on the first responder spreadsheet. State reporting from recently added case data by zip code shows there have been 87 cases in the 45387 zip code, which has a total population of 5,456, since the start of the pandemic. Forty of those cases, or about 45%, have occurred in the past month — an indicator of the dramatic surge seen locally and around the county and state.
The wider picture
County and state cases have soared in recent days, yet also gotten more difficult to track and analyze due to incomplete numbers.
Beginning on Wednesday, Nov. 18, a note on ODH’s coronavirus dashboard indicated that thousands of reports were pending review, and the daily figures provided were incomplete. Gov. Mike DeWine explained in a Tweet that the state was double-checking antigen tests, rapid tests known to be less reliable than the PCR tests, so the 24-hour daily change was “low.” Most of the thousands of outstanding tests were expected to be confirmed, he added.
Yet despite the partialness of the data, Ohio has added some of its highest case numbers over the past week, with four days topping 8,000 new infections for a single 24-hour period. And on Monday, Nov. 23, as some delayed results unrelated to the antigen test issue were added to the case numbers, new cases spiked to a historic high of 11,885. That same day, Greene County also saw a record-breaking high of 209 new cases added to its tally.
As of Tuesday, the state was poised to top 372,000 total infections since the start of the pandemic, with more than 25,000 total hospitalizations and over 6,100 deaths. In Greene County, Tuesday’s numbers rose to 5,223 infections, 303 hospitalizations and 64 deaths. The seven-day moving average of new cases for the county was 121, up from about 53 at the start of November.
Yet the bigger and more concerning story this week involves record numbers of hospital admissions.
Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are significantly up in Ohio, with no end yet in sight, according to DeWine at a special press briefing on Monday focused on the brewing hospital crisis.
As of Monday, there were 4,358 people with the virus being treated in Ohio’s hospitals, up 59% from just two weeks prior, DeWine stated. About one-fourth of all hospitalized patients in the state have COVID-19.
The sheer volume of patients — combined with a health care workforce that is itself depleted by rising COVID-19 infections and quarantining — poses an escalating problem for hospitals around the state, four hospital executives said during Monday’s briefing. The problem is different, and more serious, than the spring’s lack of PPE supplies, the experts attested.
“Patients are coming in at a faster rate than we are discharging them,” Mercy Health President Ronda Lehman explained.
All pointed to rampant community spread of the virus as underlying the hospital crunch. As of Thursday, Nov. 19, the latest reporting period, 72 of Ohio’s 88 counties were flagged as “red,” indicating “severe exposure and spread,” on the state’s COVID-19 heat map. For the first time, one county, Franklin, flipped to the most dire level, “purple.”
Greene County continued at “red” for the sixth straight week, with four of seven indicators flagged.
“We can’t sound the alarm bell loud enough,” Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief clinical officer of OSU’s Wexner Medical Center, said at the briefing, urging Ohioans to mask and social distance to slow down the virus’ spread.
Speaking about hospital zone three, an area centered around Cincinnati that includes Greene County, UC Health President and CEO Dr. Richard Lofgren noted that hospital admissions growth was already “exponential” in the region.
“It’s not that we’re planning for the surge — the surge is here,” he said.
ODH data tracked by the News shows that the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations statewide almost doubled from 161 on Nov. 1 to 318 on Nov. 24. The state admitted nearly 10,000 COVID-19 patients to hospitals in the months of October and November — accounting for about 40% of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Greene County added about one-third of its total hospitalizations in the first 24 days of November.
Even if measures such as the state’s newly imposed nighttime curfew and strengthened mask order begin to curb infections, hospitalizations won’t slow down for another two weeks, according to experts at the briefing. That’s because it takes about two weeks for symptoms to become serious enough, in those individuals severely affected by the virus, to land people in the hospital.
The ICU peak is a little further out still. And beyond that peak is an even grimmer one: COVID-19 deaths. Deaths from the virus will peak about four weeks out from case peaks, expert said. With infections raging in all parts of Ohio, it’s hard to say when that final peak will appear.