MOUNT VERNON – Knox County is on the verge of turning "yellow" in the state's Public Health Advisory System for the first time in seven months, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline.
The county triggered two of the state's seven indicators last Thursday, which are meant to track COVID-19 spread at the local level:
New cases per capita: This indicator is flagged if a county records 50 or more cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks. Knox County recorded 62.58 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks – down from 102.69 on April 29 – with 39 new cases during that time.
This marks Knox County's lowest per-capita infection rate since Oct. 15, 2020, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The rate peaked at 619.36 on Jan. 7, during the height of the wintertime surge. It dropped to 86.65 on March 18 before rising to 189.34 on April 1. It has steadily declined ever since.
Non-congregate cases: This indicator is flagged if the proportion of a county's cases occurring in non-congregate settings goes over 50 percent in at least one of the last three weeks. Knox County reached this indicator each of the last three weeks, as roughly 90 percent of the county's confirmed COVID-19 cases occurred in non-congregate settings during that time.
For the second week in a row, Knox County did not trigger the "new case increase" indicator. It also did not trigger indicators tied to COVID-related emergency department visits, outpatient visits, hospital admissions, or regional ICU bed occupancy rates.
And for the first time since March 18, Knox County is not experiencing "high-incidence" COVID-19 spread, according to the CDC's definition. That occurs when a community records more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks.
Knox County was eight confirmed cases away from turning "yellow" last Thursday. Had it recorded 31 cases over the last two weeks, instead of 39, it would have slipped below the state's "new cases per capita" indicator threshold. Knox County would then have triggered only one indicator, causing it to turn "yellow" for the first time since Oct. 1, 2020.
One of Knox County's neighbors turned "yellow" last week for the first time since Oct. 8, 2020. Coshocton County hit just one indicator (non-congregate cases), recording the fourth-lowest per-capita infection rate in the state (Knox County ranked 13th).
Licking County turned "orange" last week for the first time since Oct. 8, 2020. It had been "red" for seven straight months amid the wintertime surge. Morrow, Ashland and Holmes counties remained "orange" last week, while Richland and Delaware stayed "red."
Counties that trigger one indicator or fewer are deemed "yellow," signaling "active exposure and spread" of COVID-19. Counties hitting two or three indicators are deemed "orange," signaling "increased exposure and spread."
Counties hitting four or five indicators are considered "red," signaling "very high exposure and spread," and those hitting six or seven are deemed "purple," signaling "severe exposure and spread."
Seven of Ohio's 88 counties were "yellow" this week, up from four the week before. There were 43 "orange" counties, up from 38, and 38 "red" counties, down from 46.
Ohio's per-capita infection rate dropped for the fourth straight week last Thursday. The state recorded 140.2 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks, down from 155.6 on April 29, 185.8 on April 22 and 200 on April 15.
Gov. Mike DeWine promised in early March that all COVID-related health restrictions would be lifted if the state's per-capita rate reached 50. (He said in April that goal may change, and it may soon be based on the percentage of state residents vaccinated.)
There were 1,058 Ohioans hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, down 7 percent from a week ago and 20 percent from three weeks ago. The number of statewide hospitalizations peaked on Dec. 15 at 5,308, according to the Ohio Hospital Association.
COVID-related deaths continue to decline statewide, as Ohio prioritized its most vulnerable citizens in the vaccine rollout. Roughly 90 percent of the state's COVID-19 deaths have involved senior citizens, according to the ODH, and now 75 percent of that population has been vaccinated.
LOCAL NUMBERS: Knox County added 26 new coronavirus cases last week, according to Knox Public Health, down from 34 the week before. There were 28 active cases in Knox County on Thursday, down from 49 on April 29.
Three county residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, up from two the week before. Knox County recorded no new coronavirus-related deaths last week.
More than 4,500 county residents have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, according to KPH, while 300-plus have been hospitalized by it and 85 have died from it. The novel coronavirus has sickened more than a million Ohioans over the last 14 months, according to the ODH, and has killed over 19,000.
Roughly 31 percent of Knox County is at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the ODH, while 28 percent is fully vaccinated. This lags behind the state average, as 41 percent of Ohioans are at least partially vaccinated and 35 percent are fully vaccinated.
Knox County currently has a higher vaccination rate than five of its seven neighbors, however. Only Licking County (38 percent partially, 33 percent fully) and Delaware County (54 percent partially, 47 percent fully) have higher rates.