COVID-19 update— Variant spurs new restrictions
- Published: August 30, 2021
A few short months ago in Yellow Springs, masks came off, plexiglass barriers came down and tourism took off as the virus that causes COVID-19 petered out. Council returned to its chambers and a fall Street Fair seemed likely.
But recently, the virus has rebounded, surging in the county, state and nation thanks to the more contagious Delta strain. This week, 82 of Ohio’s 88 counties were experiencing “high” spread, the highest possible level, according to the CDC.
With the reversal of fortune has come a change in plans.
Last week, Village Council moved its meetings back online and revived its downtown mask mandate. The Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce canceled the Oct. 9 Street Fair. Community events are once again paused or going remote. Vaccine mandates have been announced.
“Unfortunately, I feel like we’re right back to square one,” Laurie Fox, a spokesperson with Greene County Public Health said in an interview this week. “We’ve completely gone backwards.”
Although the virus is back, many of the earlier measures aimed at preventing its spread are not. Ohio legislators tied the hands of the Ohio Department of Health in its ability to enact mask mandates or business capacity limits or to require those ill or exposed to quarantine or isolate.
According to Fox, the local health department can still do contact tracing, but has no authority to ask people to stay home if they are sick unless they have a medical diagnosis of COVID-19.
As for masks, although the state’s mandate expired in May, the health department still promotes their use, along with other proven prevention measures.
“The science has proven it over and over again: masks work, handwashing works, distancing works and vaccinations work,” Fox said. “But they have to be done together to give you the best protection possible — especially against this variant.”
The country, state and county’s change in status came in mid-July, when the Delta variant took hold here.
For the two weeks ending July 8, Ohio and Greene County only added 20 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people. Since then, the case incidence rate has grown exponentially, to 194 cases per 100,000 in Ohio as of last week — 268 per 100,000 for the county.
Greene County is now adding 54 new cases of COVID-19 per day, the same rate it saw in early February 2021 and late October 2020. Meanwhile, 41 county residents have been hospitalized for the disease since the start of August, and one has died.
Even though it is more contagious, is the Delta variant more dangerous? The science on that question is mixed. However, Fox said the health department is seeing those who are infected decline more quickly, in part due to the higher viral loads associated with the variant.
“It’s definitely more aggressive,” she said. “It gets into your lungs and gets hold of your lungs faster, so you get sicker quicker.”
Fox added that the virus is now primarily infecting those who are not vaccinated and younger people, who have lower vaccination rates. In addition, areas of the county with lower vaccination rates — Fairborn, Xenia and the eastern side of the county, are having larger outbreaks.
“We do see some breakthroughs [into vaccinated people], but the primary group becoming infected are the unvaccianted,” she said.
Those who have not been vaccinated are also taking up more hospital beds, according to Ohio Department of Health officials at a press briefing on Aug. 12, citing statistics that 98% of all hospitalizations in the state since the start of 2021 are among the unvaccinated. They also echoed the idea that younger people are showing up with severe cases, but noted that the Delta strain seems to affect the lungs more than the kidneys.
“A year ago it was happening to our nursing home patients and now it is happening to our young people,” Wright State’s Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Steven Burdette said at the briefing.
Dr. Burdette added that obesity remains the most significant COVID risk factor aside from age, and that the Delta variant can progress more quickly than earlier variants.
“Patients with significant COVID will be doing okay, then in three to four hours they will be on oxygen and then on a ventilator,” he said.
One positive trend the state health department pointed to: vaccinations are on the rise, and about 10,000 Ohioans are now getting the jab each day, up from 3,000–4,000 per day in late June.
“The best way to keep people safe is to prevent them from getting COVID, and the best way to do that is the vaccine,” Dr. Burdette said.
Currently, Greene County’s vaccination rate is on par with the state average of around 60% of adults, but varies greatly across the county, from highs of 75–80% in the Yellow Springs and Bellbrook/Sugarcreek Township areas to a low of 33% in Cedarville.
Even with such a high vaccination rate, cases are up in the 45387 ZIP code over the last month. After adding just four new COVID-19 cases for the two months ending July 12, 17 new cases have been counted since.
An employee’s positive COVID-19 test prompted Miguel’s Tacos to briefly close last week, according to a public Facebook post. But according to Miami Township Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Altman, the community is not seeing a significant outbreak at present.
“My feeling is, we have a very well-immunized community, and I think the majority of people who come to visit are of the same mindset,” he said.
Although calls for service for COVID-19-related symptoms don’t appear to be on the rise, such calls currently account for about half of the department’s runs, Altman added. Recent figures suggest that 45% of all EMS calls “have the possibility of being COVID related,” Altman said.
However, hospitals no longer share later positive diagnoses with the department, Altman noted, and the health department doesn’t give addresses of COVID-19 positive residents either, so tracking local spread is more difficult.
But Miami Township Fire-Rescue is taking one significant step itself: a vaccine mandate.
MTFR is giving employees until Oct. 1 to start the vaccination process. Only three of its 32 fire and EMS staff and volunteers are not vaccinated, according to Altman.
“For us, it’s a no-brainer,” Altman said.
That’s because MTFR already requires its staff and volunteers to get an annual flu shot and a TB test, and it makes additional sense with area hospitals now requiring vaccinations among staff, vendors and students, Altman shared.
Altman said he wants to create a safe environment both at the fire station, and on calls. The department was significantly hampered when, in the fall of 2020, 13 fire and EMS personnel were out of work at one time due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the station.
“We’ve been there, done that, don’t want to do it again,” he said.
As for responding to calls for services, Altman believes it’s important to be as safe as possible.
“We really believe here that when we are going into people’s homes, we should be as safe as we can, especially with something as easy to prevent,” he said.
No religious exemptions are permitted, but those with a medical condition precluding vaccination could opt out of the mandate with a doctor’s note, Altman said.
Another local institution requiring vaccination is Antioch College, where students are set to arrive soon for a fall quarter that starts on Aug. 30.
In an email to the News this week, Antioch spokesperson James Lippincott wrote that all students planning to reside on, or commute to, campus will be required to show a proof of vaccination ahead of the start of the term. All employees, including staff and faculty, were required to show vaccination proof by July 31.
Both students and employees were given the chance to request an exemption for medical or religious reasons.
And though Antioch’s campus isn’t technically closed to outside visitors, according to Lippincott, the college continues to ask the public to limit its visits to campus, a stance it has taken since the start of the pandemic. Campus buildings, meanwhile, remain only for Antioch community use, with exceptions for deliveries, appointments and other approved visits.
At Friends Care Community, indoor visitation continues, due in part to high vaccination rates among residents. However, masks are now required at all times during visits, even inside rooms.
National guidance for nursing homes requires indoor visitation to be halted when county positivity rates rise about 10% — Greene County’s is at 11.9% as of Aug. 10. However, there is an exemption for facilities with more than 70% of residents vaccinated; Friends Care boasts a 94.8% vaccination rate, above the national average of 82.4%. About 60% of staff is vaccinated, on par with national figures. Friends Care has not had a single COVID-19 case among its residents.
The next opportunity to get vaccinated locally is Friday, Aug. 20, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Yellow Springs High School.
But for those who have already had their shots, there are other ways to help, Fox suggested. They can volunteer at vaccine clinics or join the county’s medical reserve corps, and, of course, continue to practice preventative measures.
“At the beginning of August, we still had half the county unprotected, so every little effort from everyone helps out to protect everyone else,” Fox said.
“Working together, that’s the only way we’re going to beat it,” she added.
As for the surge in the Delta variant, new Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said at the briefing in other parts of the world Delta caseloads eventually peaked and rapidly declined. He called that trend “reassuring.” Still, he added, precautions should be taken
“Are we doing everything we can do together to mnitigate how high that peak gets, how sever the experience is?”