OHIO | Ohio evades COVID-19 flareups seen through the Midwest

Photo of drive-through COVID-19 screening by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

By Jake Zuckerman

Ohio Capital Journal

While Ohio has thus far eluded COVID-19 surges seen elsewhere in the Midwest, the new case averages (about 1,000 per day) and deaths (about 19 per day) remain stubbornly in place.

Spread of the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has waned in Ohio’s larger metropolitan areas but accelerated in its rural swaths.

“It’s a little busy with just what you expect,” said Kay Conley, director of administration at Stark County Public Health Department. “Schools getting back, universities, sports, and still long-term care facilities.”

In the county, recently designated as “red” or an area with very high levels of spread per the Public Health Advisory System, Walker Elementary School switched from in-person to remote learning after an outbreak of seven cases and more students quarantined.

In Delaware County, which also turned “red” last week, Health Commissioner Sheila Hiddleson made similar observations. The cases she’s seeing, she said, have less to do with what happens inside school as what students do afterward.

“Parties, slumber parties, just kids being kids,” she said.

Ohio has avoided some of the higher infection rates seen in states like Wisconsin, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Minnesota and others, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

As of Monday, nearly 152,000 Ohioans have been infected with COVID-19. At least 4,746 have died and more than 15,000 hospitalized.

Continuing a trend from the summer, younger people are driving Ohio’s new caseload. In September, 20- to 29-year-olds comprised 27% of new cases — well beyond any other age group.

One likely culprit: universities. At Ohio State University, 2,856 students contracted COVID-19 between Aug. 14 and Saturday. At Miami University, at least 1,512 students contracted COVID-19 between Aug, 17 and Sunday.

COVID-19 continues to grow increasingly prevalent in rural Ohio. When adjusted for population, counties like Mercer, Putnam, Shelby, Pike and Lawrence are showing towering infection rates.

In Mercer County, health department administrator Jason Menchhofer said contact tracers are seeing a pattern of spread through households in larger families living in rural pockets of the county.

“We really think the majority of it is spread out in the community, which could be happening in things like bars, and we hear through contact tracing there’s quite a bit of spread happening in households,” he said.

There are, however, hopeful indicators.

As of the most recent data from Friday, the positivity rate is below 3% — about half what it was during a July case surge.

Less than 600 Ohioans are hospitalized with the coronavirus, compared to more than 1,100 in late July.

Gov. Mike DeWine issued a news release Monday highlighting a Reuters article detailing Ohio’s comparative success compared to other Midwest states.

He also praised President Donald Trump, whose administration announced Monday plans to distribute 100 million low cost, rapid-result antigen tests to states by week’s end.

“We appreciate the Trump Administration providing millions of these innovative tests to Ohioans and our administration will continue to work on a plan to best incorporate them into our overall testing strategy in the coming days,” DeWine said. “Making a rapid, low-cost test available, demonstrates Abbott’s ingenuity and addresses our critical need to rapidly identify who has the virus. By knowing who is COVID-19-positive, especially among those in vulnerable communities, we can take immediate steps to limit the spread and control its impact.”

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.

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