MOUNT VERNON – After four straight months of being labeled "red" in the state's Public Health Advisory System, Knox County dropped down to "orange" on Thursday.
The county triggered two of the state's seven indicators, which are meant to track the spread of COVID-19 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 99.48 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks – down from 137.99 last Thursday – with 62 new cases during that time.
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 more than 90 percent of the county's confirmed COVID-19 cases occurred in non-congregate settings during that time.
Knox County did not meet the following indicators this week: new case increase, emergency department visits, outpatient visits, hospital admissions and regional ICU bed occupancy.
Knox County was one of nine counties to drop from "red" to "orange" this week. It was joined by Adams, Darke, Guernsey, Harrison, Morgan, Preble, Putnam, and Van Wert. There are currently 66 "red" counties, 21 "orange" counties, and one "yellow" county (Meigs) in Ohio.
Counties that meet four or five indicators are deemed "red" in the OPHAS, and are said to have "very high exposure and (COVID-19) spread," according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Counties that meet two or three indicators are deemed "orange" and are said to have "increased exposure and spread." Residents in "orange" counties are advised to "exercise a high degree of caution (and) follow all current health orders."
While Knox County had triggered three or fewer indicators each week since Jan. 21, it never dropped from "red" to "orange" because its new-cases-per-capita rate was too high.
If a county records more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks, it is said to have "high-incidence" spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC's definition. Counties that are "red" cannot drop down to "orange" until they dip below this high-incidence threshold.
Knox County did that this week, going from 137.99 new cases per 100,000 residents to 99.48. It's the first time Knox County has dropped below the high-incidence threshold since Oct. 22, 2020.
Knox County first turned "red" on Nov. 12. It marked the beginning of a brutal wintertime surge, where thousands were infected locally, hundreds were hospitalized and dozens died from COVID-19.
By Jan. 7, at the peak of the surge, Knox County had recorded 386 new cases over the two weeks prior (for a per-capita rate of roughly 619). But the county's caseload has dropped drastically since then, as the holidays have subsided and vaccine distribution has increased. Knox County's new-cases-per-capita rate fell to 450.88 by Feb. 4, then 137.99 by March 4.
There are currently 49 active cases of COVID-19 in Knox County, according to Knox Public Health. Two county residents are hospitalized with the virus. Since the pandemic began a year ago, more than 4,000 residents have tested positive for the virus, hundreds have been hospitalized with it, and 81 have died from it.
More than 10,000 residents – or 16 percent of the county's population – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the ODH. The vaccine is currently available to anyone in Ohio over the age 50, as well as those who belong to specific high-risk groups outlined in the state's distribution plan.