MANSFIELD -- Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday the state's color-coded COVID-19 Public Health Advisory System -- which ranked Richland County as "red" again this week -- is not tied to any state-ordered restrictions.
The county triggered five of the system's seven indicators in keeping a level three designation, one less than last week, when it earned a spot on the state's "watch list" for level four.
There had been concerns the county would become "purple," or level four, this week, which may have resulted in "stay at home" recommendations, partly based on outbreaks at the two state prisons in the county.
It appears no additional restrictions would have been forthcoming from Columbus, even if the county had gone purple.
"It's the best advice the health experts can give, but it's just advice. We are not tying anything to the colors. They are there just to inform," DeWine said.
It's the third time Richland County has been flagged as a red county since the system began in July.
"The Level 3 risk designation means that there is very high exposure and spread of COVID-19 in Richland County. Richland County residents are encouraged to limit activities as much as possible and to follow all current health orders," Richland Public Health educator Reed Richmond said.
Here are a look at the five indicators the county triggered this week:
New cases per capita: Flagged if greater than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks. Richland County has had 121 new positive tests in the last two weeks, a per capita of 99.87.
Sustained increase in new cases: Flagged if increasing trend of at least five consecutive days in overall cases by onset date over the last three weeks. Richland County had five straight days (Sept. 25-29) when it went from 10 new cases on a seven-day average to 12.29.
Proportion of cases not in a congregate setting: Flagged if proportion of cases that are not in a congregate setting goes over 50 percent in at least one of the last three weeks. Richland County would not have triggered this indicator since it had been under 50 percent for the last three weeks. However, the state adjusted the number from Sept. 23-29 to 56.48 percent, up from 47.37. The state has said data within the last 14 days is preliminary and subject to change as more information is reported to ODH.
Sustained increase in emergency department visits for COVID-like illness: Flagged if increasing trend of at least five consecutive days in the number of visits to the emergency department with COVID-like illness or a diagnosis over the last three weeks. Richland County had five straight days of growth between Sept. 26 and Sept. 30 when the number of visits climbed from 5.71 to 8.71 on a seven-day average.
Sustained increase in new COVID hospital admissions: Flagged if increasing trend of at least five consecutive days in the number of new hospitalizations due to COVID over the last three weeks. Richland County had five such days between Sept. 24 and Sept. 28 when the number of admissions grew from 1.71 to 4.29 on a seven-day average.
The county didn't trigger two of the indicators -- sustained increase in outpatient visits for COVID-like illness and ICU bed occupancy.
Richland County is one of 18 "red" counties in the state this week.
During his press conference, DeWine cautioned the state is seeing wider spread of the virus.
The number of red counties is the highest since July 23, he said, and the 58 orange, or level two, counties is the most reported since the system was implemented.
The positivity rating in the statewide testing is also increasing. Ohio's lowest positivity was in mid to late September when the single day rate dipped to 2.5 percent several times. The weekly average was 2.7 percent for the week of Sept. 18. T
"Right now Ohio’s positivity rate has jumped to 3.9 percent and the 7-day rolling average is 3.3 percent. This reflects the ongoing increasing trend of virus spread that we are seeing throughout the state. These numbers are not good," DeWine said.
"The virus is spreading in more areas of the state and impacting a wider swath of Ohioans. Local health departments tell us this is due to lax social distancing, not enough people wearing masks, and people not following quarantine and isolation guidance," the governor said.
"In half of our new red counties, there are outbreaks related to funerals or weddings. In one example, there was a wedding where two grandfathers died due to COVID. Examples like these are absolutely heartbreaking," he said.