In the midst of a massive COVID-19 spike, Fayette County was reported Thursday as first in the state for high occurrence of new cases in the past two weeks.
A sustained increase in the number of county residents seeking medical care for symptoms of COVID-19 and a sustained rise in the number of new cases have resulted in Fayette County being moved to a “Level 3/Red Alert” in the Ohio Public Health Advisory System (OPHAS). Gov. Mike DeWine announced the change in Thursday’s press conference.
According to OPHAS risk level guidelines, this indicates that Fayette County currently has very high exposure and spread. Residents should limit activities as much as possible and follow all current health orders.
Out of 88 Ohio counties, Fayette was one of 18 listed as “Red Alert” counties on Thursday. Ross and Madison counties were the only counties bordering Fayette at the red level. Red is the second-most serious public emergency level.
“Since the alert system was put into place, Fayette County has alternated between yellow (five weeks) and orange (nine weeks). At that point, the indicators that were triggered were due to the number of new cases and the level of community spread,” Leigh Cannon, deputy health commissioner at Fayette County Public Health (FCPH), wrote in a statement. “Now we are seeing more people seeking medical care, and more hospitalizations.
“In addition to our current outbreak at Fayette Christian School, we have been able to link numerous cases to large family gatherings like funerals, weddings, and church events. It is very important to avoid any large gatherings or crowds of any kind. Due to the rapid spread in our community, I urge everyone to stay home. Stay with only your household members when you are not at work or school or running necessary errands. Limit any other exposures the best that you can, practice social distancing and please wear a mask when out in public.
“We as a community can reverse this situation and start trending back toward yellow but we need EVERYONE to take personal responsibility to protect each other TODAY! Lives are being dominated by this virus. It really saddens me to know that we are monitoring some very sick people right now, and we are seeing people we know and care about being admitted to the hospital. Our hospitalized cases are not able to have any visitors, and their loved ones are devastated by this separation. This is not a game. This is not a hoax. This is REAL and it is here right now and we have to do better! For one moment put yourself in the shoes of those so heavily affected by this virus! Compassion and kindness for others can go a long way. Help us get Fayette County back to YELLOW! We all have the ability and responsibility to protect each other!”
Fayette County triggered four out of seven indicators on OPHAS. The indicators triggered were:
▪ New cases per capita (290.9 cases per 100,000 residents)
▪ Sustained increase in new cases (.7 average cases on Sept. 21 to 7.3 on Oct. 5)
▪ Proportion of cases not in a congregate setting
▪ Sustained increase in outpatient visits (1.1 average visits on Oct. 1 to 2.4 on Oct. 6)
In addition, as reported previously, there have been 83 new cases reported in the last two weeks. Health department staff are working on contact tracing.
Cannon urged everyone to continue to avoid crowded areas, keep six feet between you and others, wear masks in public places, wash hands frequently, clean high touch surfaces often, and stay home if feeling sick. Individuals at high risk for severe complications and their families should continue to take extra precautions.
Local school districts are preparing to go to virtual learning if necessary, according to Cannon, but currently are still moving forward with in-person classroom settings. Case rates are low at the two public high schools — Miami Trace Local Schools and Washington Court House City Schools.
Fayette Christian School closed last Monday due to a COVID outbreak and will remain closed through at least this week.
At Miami Trace, no changes were made as FCPH confirmed that as long as the increase and spread are “not directly connected” to the district they will be able to remain in-person for classes.
“At this time, we will remain in Learning Plan A, in-person instruction, and continue to emphasize our safety protocols,” Miami Trace Superintendent Kim Pittser said via an emailed press release and phone interview Thursday. “Currently, the MT District has only one active case (a staff member), which was communicated earlier this week. Health and safety are top priorities for our school community. I continue to be thankful for the collaboration with the health department. We have a nursing contract with the health department and the nurses we have on-site and in our buildings are wonderful assets for us and great communicators to our parents and guardians, so they have been extremely helpful in this process.”
Washington Court House City Schools informed district parents the same point made by Pittser — the protocols regarding any adjustment to the current schedule and procedures are not dependent upon the county’s COVID-19 level, but rather the COVID-19 situation within the schools.
“For example, in the event that Fayette County moves into a Red status/level three, this does not automatically mean anything specific for WCHCS,” a Facebook post from the district on Wednesday said. “We will only make adjustments to our daily procedures in the event that the COVID-19 situation changes within our students and staff, with specific recommendations from Fayette County Public Health-OHIO. At this time, there has not been a rise in COVID-19 at WCHCS, and we remain in school on a regular schedule. There are currently no plans or indicators present for our district to move to a hybrid or remote operation. In the event that our district becomes inundated with COVID-19, we will communicate all of those adjustments through our official communication methods, such as this social media page, our building all-calls, and any other official process at your student’s building.”
Additionally, on Thursday WCHCS officials said that two additional cases were confirmed at the Washington Middle School and that FCPH is working to clear students and faculty through the contact tracing process.
“At this time, WMS and WCHCS will remain in school on a regular schedule,” the statement read. “If you do not receive a call from FCPH (Thursday), then your student has been cleared through the contact tracing process and may return to school (Friday). We thank all of our families for continuing to practice social distancing, wearing your masks while in public, and following the guidelines set by our health experts, as we need your help to keep our community and the Blue Lion Family safe and healthy.”
The City of Washington Court House will continue to operate as it has been, with the city administration building preferring to operate by appointment, use of the drop box, by phone call, although those who need to meet can be accommodated, according to City Manager Joe Denen.
“I think that it’s prudent that everybody pay attention to the guidelines that we have. It’s important when you go shopping to wear a mask, and if you don’t have to go somewhere, you don’t. It’s basically — it’s not shut down at all. People need to pay more attention to face masks and washing their hands. We know what to do,” said Denen. “If people exercise some caution, they can make a tremendous difference.”
Gov. DeWine pleaded Thursday with Ohioans to avoid crowded gatherings, citing the “absolutely heartbreaking” case of a wedding he said led to the coronavirus deaths of two grandfathers, while defending a decision to boost the number of fans able to attend Browns and Bengals football games.
The Republican governor also made it clear that he won’t rethink the state’s reopening.
“We’re not going to shut down this economy again. We’re not going to shut everything down,” he said during his twice-weekly briefing on the pandemic and its impact on Ohio.
DeWine’s comments came as coronavirus cases are on the rise, with the Ohio Department of Health reporting 1,539 confirmed and probable cases Thursday, well above the 21-day case average of 1,080. More than 164,000 confirmed and probable cases have been reported to date, including 4,983 deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.