MOUNT VERNON -- Knox County saw 22 confirmed COVID-19 cases in June, according to Knox Public Health. It saw 57 cases in July.
Through the first three weeks of August, the county has seen nearly 500 new cases – including 48 on Wednesday alone – as the highly contagious delta variant rips through the community and state.
"We're averaging, this week, around 35 to 40 new cases per day," Knox County Health Commissioner Julie Miller said. "I'm not surprised by that because we're just having a difficult time getting people to understand the importance of getting vaccinated and/or masking, and how much that can help to reduce the numbers we're seeing."
There were 198 confirmed, active COVID-19 cases in Knox County on Wednesday, according to KPH. There were 20 county residents hospitalized with the virus. The county has seen four COVID-related deaths this month, after recording zero in June and July combined.
These numbers pale in comparison to Knox County's coronavirus peak last winter – the county's record for active cases is 392 (set Nov. 30, 2020) and current hospitalizations is 41 (set Dec. 31, 2020) – but local health officials worry about the potential of the current surge, given the emergence of the delta variant and Knox County's 38% vaccination rate.
"The thing that concerns us now ... is that most of the people who are becoming ill, or becoming sick with COVID, are sicker, or becoming more ill with symptoms than they had been last year," Miller said during a Facebook Live address Aug. 9.
"We are seeing that non-vaccinated individuals are being hospitalized and we’re seeing more ICU admissions, which means people are getting sicker quicker."
The CDC has characterized the level of COVID-19 transmission in Knox County as "high," the highest level listed, given the sharp rise in cases and hospitalizations over the last month.
All but one of Ohio's 88 counties (Ashtabula) are currently listed as "high-transmission" areas by the CDC – up from 48 out of 88 counties two weeks ago.
The CDC has recommended that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of "substantial" or "high" transmission, due to the rise in cases nationwide.
Knox County's numbers are reflective of a larger, statewide trend, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health. The state recorded 4,600 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday – the most in one day since Feb. 4 – and current hospitalizations surpassed 2,000 for the first time since Feb. 8.
With numbers returning to winter-surge levels, some hospitals around the state are bracing for impact. OhioHealth is considering temporarily halting elective procedures that require an overnight stay, the Columbus Dispatch reported Wednesday, in an effort to free up hospital staff and bed capacity.
Three of the hospital system's intensive care units were above 90% capacity as of the week of Aug. 13, the most recent date for which capacity data was available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
VACCINES PROVING EFFECTIVE: Local officials remain adamant that vaccination is Knox County's top weapon against the spread of COVID-19.
Unvaccinated individuals have represented approximately 90 percent of the county's new cases over the last month, according to Knox Public Health. And those who are vaccinated but still contract the virus – known as "breakthrough" cases – have been less likely to experience adverse side effects from the virus, according to local officials.
“Even if you are vaccinated and you get COVID-19, the symptoms are far less severe and your chances of being hospitalized are much lower,” KPH Nursing Director Lisa Dudgeon said.
This is reflected through state data as well. The Ohio Department of Health reported Aug. 6 that since January, when COVID-19 vaccines became available to the general public, more than 98 percent of Ohio residents hospitalized with the novel coronavirus were not fully vaccinated.
“We want you to get vaccinated because the likelihood of you becoming severely ill or being hospitalized or dying is greatly reduced ..." Miller said during her briefing Aug. 9.
"As of today, we have not had any deaths from COVID-19 (involving) vaccinated individuals. We have not had any of those reports. And that means that those COVID-19 vaccines are doing what they’re supposed to do: preventing severe symptoms, preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID. That’s why we want you to be vaccinated.”
Getting vaccinated also limits one's ability to spread the virus, Knox Community Hospital CEO Bruce White said in a recent interview. Doing so will help protect others in the community and will help lower transmission levels, White said, as the virus will eventually run out of viable hosts.
"I believe it’s the right thing to do – and not just to protect myself …" White said. "You get vaccinated because it protects you, but one of the most important reasons (to get vaccinated) is it prevents you from spreading the disease to other people.”
Knox Public Health will conduct a vaccine clinic Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Fiesta Mexicana on Coshocton Avenue. Those who get vaccinated during that time will receive a coupon from the restaurant for a half-price entrée, with the purchase of another entrée.
KPH will offer the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which recently received full approval from the FDA, during this time. It will be available to anyone age 12 or older, regardless of where they live.
Participants should bring their insurance card, photo ID, and if seeking a second or third dose, their vaccination card. There is no charge for the vaccine.
KPH will also continue to offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by appointment at the agency’s main location, 11660 Upper Gilchrist Rd. in Mount Vernon. First and second doses are available, plus third doses for those who have compromised immune systems.
COVID-19 testing is also available at Knox Public Health either by appointment or via an at-home test kit. Test kits can be picked up at the front desk, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
To make an appointment to be tested for COVID-19 or receive the COVID-19 vaccine, call KPH at 740-399-8008.