MOUNT VERNON – After months of stress, loss and isolation at local long-term care facilities, some positive news emerged Wednesday regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, zero residents or staff members at Knox County long-term care facilities tested positive for the virus this week.
Local officials attribute this to multiple factors, including the fact that nursing homes began vaccinating residents and staff last month.
"(This is) such good news," Knox County Health Commissioner Julie Miller said in an email. "Although we offer our sympathy to the families of those who have died due to COVID in LTCs, it is nice to know that the protocols, restrictions and now the added protection of vaccine are working as we are preserving lives."
Knox County was one of 11 counties in Ohio to record zero positive cases this week (the others were Guernsey, Harrison, Hocking, Logan, Noble, Paulding, Shelby, Van Wert, Vinton and Wyandot). Knox is the largest county to record zero positive cases, with 11 long-term care facilities locally (Wyandot had the second-most with seven).
Local nursing homes and assisted living facilities have fought to keep their residents safe from COVID-19 over the last year. Despite these efforts, 184 residents and 111 staff members have tested positive for the virus in Knox County since March 2020, according to the ODH.
Ten of the 11 facilities have faced at least one COVID-19 outbreak (two or more cases) over the last 11 months, and two facilities (Country Court Skilled Nursing Center and The Laurels of Mount Vernon) have experienced outbreaks of 50 or more cases.
While's it's unclear exactly how many of Knox County's COVID-19 deaths have stemmed from long-term care facilities, all 65 victims locally have been age 60 or older, according to Knox Public Health.
Statewide, nursing homes have been hit hard by the pandemic. More than half of Ohio's 10,344 confirmed COVID-19 deaths have stemmed from long-term care facilities, according to the ODH, and nearly 80,000 cases have occurred among residents and staff.
COVID-19 numbers locally and statewide have begun to decline in recent weeks, following a winter surge that sickened thousands.
Knox County recorded 281 new cases over the last two weeks, down from a high of 386 on Jan. 7. Hospitalizations dipped into single digits this week for the first time since Nov. 4, and there were 210 active cases heading into the weekend, down from 353 on Jan. 8. Four county residents died this week, bringing the local COVID-19 death toll to 65.
For the second week in a row, Knox County met one of the seven indicators in Ohio's Public Health Advisory System to remain "red," like most of the state, due to high incidence of the virus.
According to the ODH, 7.6 percent of Knox County (4,750 residents) has received the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 56 percent of the county's 80-and-older population has been inoculated, and nearly 25 percent of those age 70-79 have received a shot. Statewide, 8.6 percent of Ohioans have been vaccinated, with more than a million shots having been administered since doses first arrived Dec. 14.
The vaccine will become available to residents age 65 and older beginning next week. Those wishing to receive a COVID-19 shot in Knox County can email Knox Public Health to set up an appointment.