Dewine July 16 presser

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday afternoon Richland County has been designated "red," meaning masks become mandatory in public Friday at 6 p.m. due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

COLUMBUS -- Facial coverings in public become mandatory Friday at 6 p.m. in Richland County after Gov. Mike DeWine announced today the county has been designated "red" in the Ohio Public Health Advisory System.

Richland Public Health officials said they were alerted Thursday afternoon the county had been moved to "red," or level three, meaning the county has triggered four or five virus spread indicators in the system the governor announced July 2.

A total of 19 of the state's 88 counties, almost 22 percent, are now designated "red," up from 12 last week. Ashland, Crawford and Knox counties remained yellow this week, or level one.

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There are no "purple," or level four counties in the state. DeWine said the new counties designated "red" means that 60 percent of the state's population will be under mandatory mask requirements.

Richland County had been designated "orange," or level two, in the first two weeks of the system. RPH Commissioner Sarah Humphrey told Richland Source this week that "red" was a possibility.

"It's a small inconvenience," Humphrey said Tuesday, stating it's been proven facial coverings slow the spread of the virus, quickening the speed at which the virus can be stopped.

"The quicker we can get this pandemic over with, the sooner we can all get back to some kind of normal living," Humphrey said.

In announcing Richland County's new level, DeWine said the county, with a population of 121,000 has seen more new positive tests in the last few weeks than the entire nation of Jamaica, with a population of 2.9 million.

He said the new daily case average in Richland County has doubled in the last few weeks. DeWine said local health officials cited COVID-19 issues with a restaurant and a birthday party, as well as multiple long-term care facilities.

RPH health educator Reed Richmond said Thursday, "The level three designation means that there is very high exposure and spread of COVID-19 in Richland County. Residents are encouraged to limit activities as much as possible and to follow all current health orders."

Richmond said the "red" level mandates facial coverings be worn at all times in public.

This includes when in any indoor location that is not a residence; outdoors when unable to consistently maintain a distance of six feet or more from individuals who are not members of their household; waiting for, riding, driving or operating public transportation, a taxi, a private car service or ride sharing vehicle.

Richmond said the mandate does not apply to vehicles engaged in direct travel through a county that does not stop in that county.

The facial covering requirement will continue until Richland County is no longer designated at a Level 3 in the Public Health Advisory System, Richmond said.

The system was established to increase the information available to Ohioans about COVID-19 risk at the county level.

Seven indicators are analyzed to assess risk for each county:

New Cases Per Capita – Flagged if greater than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks.

Sustained Increase in New Cases – Flagged if increasing trend of at least 5 days in overall cases by onset date.

Proportion of Cases Not Congregate Cases – Flagged if proportion of cases that are not in a congregate setting goes over 50%.

Sustained Increase in Emergency Room Visits – Flagged if increasing trend of at least 5 days in the number of visits to the emergency department with COVID-like illness or a diagnosis.

Sustained Increase in Outpatient Visits - Flagged if increasing trend of at least 5 days in the number of people going to a health care provider with COVID symptoms who then receive a COVID confirmed or suspected diagnosis.

Sustained Increase in New COVID Hospital Admissions – Flagged if increasing trend of at least 5 days in the number of new hospitalizations due to COVID.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Bed Occupancy – Flagged if the percentage of occupied ICU beds in each region goes above 80 percent for at least three days in the last week.

Level three is reached when a county triggers 4-5 of the above indicators. The four indicators triggered in Richland County are as follows:

-- New Cases Per Capita (67 cases between June 23 and July 11)

-- Proportion of Cases Not Congregate Cases (76 percent of cases are not from a congregate setting)

-- Sustained increase in Emergency Room Visits (from 3 visits per day to 6 visits per day from June 23 to July 11)

-- Sustained Increase in Outpatient Visits (from 21 visits to 29 visits)

According to the Ohio Dept. of Health website, as of Thursday at 2 p.m., Richland County has 412 positive tests, up from 403 on Wednesday. It has had 61 hospitalizations since the pandemic began in March, an increase of one since Wednesday.

The county has also had seven deaths (no change from Wednesday) and 301 recoveries (up from 299 on Wednesday).

Richmond said residents should follow the recommended guidelines for Risk Level 3 to reduce the spread of COVID-19:

-- Wear a face covering (cloth mask) when out in the public.

-- Maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from non-household members.

-- Consider necessary travel only.

-- Follow good hygiene standards, including washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

-- Frequent use of hand sanitizer; avoid touching your face.

-- Cover coughs or sneezes (e.g., into a tissue, or elbow).

-- Symptom self-evaluation monitoring.

-- Decrease in-person interactions with others.

-- Limit attending gatherings of any number.

-- Conduct a daily health/symptom self-evaluation and stay at home if symptomatic.

-- Seek medical care as needed, but limit or avoid unnecessary visits to hospitals, nursing homes, and residential care facilities to see others as much as possible.

For more information about the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, visit http://coronavirus.ohio.gov.

For more information about the coronavirus situation in Richland County visit https://www.richlandhealth.org/ and follow the coronavirus links in the sliders at the top of the page.

If you have questions, call the Ohio Department of Health COVID-19 Call Line 1-833-427-5634. The call line is open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. each day, including weekends.

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"