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COLUMBUS -- North central Ohio counties remained "yellow," or level one, on Thursday in the state's COVID-19 Public Health Advisory System.

Richland, Ashland, Knox and Crawford counties all remained at the lowest level of the virus spread, Gov. Mike DeWine announced during a press conference.

Richland Public Health reported Thursay 666 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases with 44 probable cases since the pandemic reached Ohio in March. There have been 97 total hospitalizations, including six currently. RPH reported 33 of those hospitalizations have spent time in the ICU.

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There have been 17 deaths and 659 people on the cumulative list have recovered, RPH said. That would mean there were 34 active COVID-19 cases as of Thursday in the county.

It's the third straight week Richland County has been at level one and the fourth time in the last six weeks. The county, which was "red," or level three, twice this summer, was "orange," or level two, on Aug. 13 and 20.

DeWine said Ohio on Thursday had 39 "yellow" counties, the highest number since July 2.  The governor said 26 percent of the state's residents  are in a yellow county.

There are seven "red" counties in Ohio on Thursday. There were newly red -- Wayne, Butler and Putnam. Four counties remained red -- Lucas, Mercer, Montgomery and Preble counties.

Richland County met just one of seven PHAS indicators -- percentage of cases found in non-congregate care settings.

The county has triggered this same indicator for the last three weeks. It's considered "met" if the percentage is at least 50 percent of total cases and Richland County has been at 100 percent for the last two weeks.

There were no active cases in Richland County nursing homes or assisted living centers when the ODH website updated on Wednesday.

In the other six indicators:

New cases per capita (7-day average) -- Richland County had 27 new cases in the last two weeks, or 22.29 per 100,000 residents. That's down from 26.41 on Aug. 27 and 38.79 on Aug. 20.

New cases increase (7-day average) -- Richland County was at 1.43 on Sept. 1, down from 5 on Aug. 12.

Emergency room visits (7-day average) -- Richland County was at 1.71 on Sept. 1, down from 5.14 on Aug. 16.

Outpatient visits (7-day average) -- Richland County was at 13.57 on Sept. 1, down from 20.14 on Aug. 12.

Hospital admissions (7-day average) -- Richland County was at 0.57 on Sept. 1, down from 1.57 on Aug. 16.

ICU bed occupancy percentage -- These numbers continue to trend down -- 3.40 on Sept. 1, 3.92 on Aug. 31, 4.62 on Aug. 30, 4.44 on Aug. 29, 5.30 on Aug. 28, 4.79 on Aug. 27 and 4.63 on Aug. 26.

DeWine also announced the Ohio Coronavirus Wastewater Monitoring Network, a new effort to study wastewater at a number of sewage treatment plants to help contain the spread of the virus.

"The system will give us an earlier warning sign of possible COVID-19 case increases in any given community and allow decision-makers to more quickly plan prevention and response efforts," DeWine said.

He said each wastewater treatment plant covers a specific service area, so these are community-level measures that can be used to determine if a local surge in COVID-19 cases may be imminent.

The state reported there had 1,345 new positive tests in the last 24 hours with 50 deaths, the highest 24-hour total since June.

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?"