MOUNT VERNON – For the first time since the Ohio Department of Health implemented its Public Health Advisory System in early July, Knox County has turned 'red.'
It reached the third of four warning levels this week, triggering four of the state's seven indicators, which are meant to track COVID-19 spread at the local level: new cases per capita, new cases increase, non-congregate cases, and outpatient visits (tied to eventual COVID-19 diagnoses).
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 300.5 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks, with 187 new cases during that time. (Interestingly, Knox County had the 13th-lowest per-capita rate in the state this week, despite this number.)
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 Oct. 23 to Nov. 1 – nine consecutive days.
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 met this indicator each of the last three weeks, as 84 percent of its cases occurred in non-congregate settings from Oct. 21 to Oct. 27; 72 percent of its cases occurred in non-congregate settings from Oct. 28 to Nov. 3; and 69 percent of its cases occurred in non-congregate settings from Nov. 4 to Nov. 10.
Outpatient visits: This indicator is flagged if a county's seven-day rolling outpatient average (reflecting the number of people who had gone to a health care provider with COVID-19 symptoms before receiving a confirmed or suspected coronavirus diagnoses) increased for five straight days over a three-week span. Knox County saw its outpatient average increase every day from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8 – seven consecutive days.
Knox County is certainly not alone in turning red this week. Of Ohio's 88 counties, 68 are now red, while 17 are orange and one (Noble) is yellow. All seven of Knox County's neighbors are now red as well, including Delaware County, which was orange last week. All 88 counties now meet the CDC's definition of "high-incidence."
Knox County is one of eight counties turning red this week for the first time. It had remained orange, or Level 2, for five straight weeks, as COVID-19 numbers began to surge statewide.
That trend certainly hasn't evaded Knox County, which has recorded 149 coronavirus cases in the past week – roughly 20 percent of the county's overall caseload since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations are surging as well, with 25 current hospitalizations as of Tuesday. Four Knox County residents have died from COVID-19 in the last three weeks.
Red counties are said to have "very high exposure and spread," according to the Ohio Department of Health. Residents are encouraged to "limit activities as much as possible."
Knox County Health Commissioner Julie Miller issued additional restrictions this week in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. She ordered residents to limit gatherings of any size and recommended people work from home whenever possible. She also ordered businesses to enforce mandatory mask-wearing by employees and customers.
“Nine months into the pandemic we have let our guard down,” Miller said Tuesday in a press release. “People are not wearing masks. They are not social distancing. As a community we need to take care of one another, it’s time to step up and mask-up.”
Counties that trigger four or five indicators in the state's Public Health Advisory System are deemed red. Those triggering six or seven are considered purple, indicating "severe exposure and spread". Residents in purple counties are encouraged to "only leave home for supplies and services."
No county in Ohio has reached the purple designation yet, but two are now close. Franklin and Tuscarawas counties are currently on the state's "watch list," meaning they have met the purple threshold this week, but will need to meet it again next week to officially turn purple.
Conversely, counties that trigger two or three indicators are deemed orange, indicating "increased exposure and spread." Those triggering one indicator are yellow, which signals only "active exposure and spread."
For more information on the state's Public Health Advisory System and how it works, click here.