COVID-19 drive-thru test Knox County

Knox Public Health Registered Nurse Carol Green administers a COVID-19 diagnostic test in the health department's parking lot on June 3, 2020. Green was one of four nurses administering swab tests for the novel coronavirus in the health department's drive-thru testing program that day.

MOUNT VERNON – Knox County remained "orange" in the state's Public Health Advisory System for the sixth straight week on Thursday, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have seemingly flatlined following a two-month decline this winter.

Knox County triggered three of the state's seven indicators, which are meant to track the spread of COVID-19 at a 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 163.67 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks – up from 139.60 last Thursday – with 102 new cases during that time.

The county's rate reached 619.36 on Jan. 7, at the peak of the wintertime surge, before dropping to 86.65 on March 18. It rose to 189.34 on April 1 before dropping to 139.60 last week. Knox County currently has the 39th-highest per-capita rate in Ohio (out of the state's 88 counties).

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 95 percent of the county's confirmed COVID-19 cases occurred in non-congregate settings during that time.

New cases increase: This indicator is flagged if a county sees its rolling daily new-case average increase for five consecutive days over a three-week span. Knox County's new-case average increased every day from April 3 to April 9 – six consecutive days.

Knox County has hit the same three indicators three weeks in a row. Emergency department visits, outpatient visits, hospital admissions and regional ICU bed occupancy (the other four indicators) have seemingly flatlined over the last three weeks.

Knox County is currently experiencing "high-incidence" COVID-19 spread, according to the CDC's definition, as it recorded more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks.

OPHAS 4-15-2021

The Ohio Public Health Advisory System on April 15, 2021.

Fifty of Ohio's 88 counties were "red" this week, signaling "very high exposure and COVID-19 spread," according to the Ohio Department of Health. There were 33 "orange" counties (signaling "increased exposure and spread") and four "yellow" counties (signaling "active exposure and spread").

Franklin County advanced from "red" to "purple" this week, becoming the first county to do so since Hamilton County on Jan. 21. Franklin County triggered six of the state's seven indicators and is currently experiencing "severe exposure and spread," according to the ODH.

Four of Knox County's neighbors (Licking, Delaware, Richland and Ashland) were "red" this week, while three (Morrow, Holmes and Coshocton) were "orange."

Ohio's per-capita case rate reached 200 on Thursday, the highest it's been since Feb. 24. The state's rate (which is based on the number of new cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks) dropped to 143.8 on March 18, but has increased each week since.

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.

There are currently more than 1,300 Ohioans hospitalized with COVID-19, DeWine said Thursday, the state's highest mark in over a month.

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 has added 75 new coronavirus cases since last Thursday, according to Knox Public Health. There are currently 80 active cases in the county, up from 64 last week.

Four county residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, down from eight last Thursday. Knox County recorded its first COVID-related death in nearly two months last Friday, when a 76-year-old woman died from the virus.

Nearly 4,400 county residents have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, according to KPH, while 300-plus have been hospitalized by it and 83 have died from it. The novel coronavirus has sickened more than a million Ohioans over the last 13 months, according to the ODH, and has killed close to 19,000.

It's been four months since the first COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in Ohio. Roughly 28 percent of Knox County and 36 percent of Ohio have received at least one dose, according to the ODH. One-fifth of Knox County is fully vaccinated, compared to one-fourth of the state at-large.

Infectious disease experts predict 70 to 80 percent of the population will need to obtain COVID-19 antibodies (whether through vaccination or infection) to achieve "herd immunity," where the virus runs out of viable hosts. Until that happens, continuing mitigation efforts will be crucial to preventing another surge, Knox County Health Commissioner Julie Miller said.

“The reason (restrictions) are still in-place is because we’re still trying to contain this virus, and we’re starting to see increases in some areas. So please still be mindful of the guidance – masking, hand-washing, (social distancing). I repeat it over and over again ..." Miller said in a Facebook Live briefing March 30.

“We’re so close – and that’s my frustration. We’re so close. If we can continue to vaccinate, and we can be kind and conscientious about wearing a mask and washing our hands, we can make this happen where we can have these restrictions lessened."

Looking to receive the COVID-19 vaccine? Click here for a full list of local providers.

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.