PHAS 073020

MANSFIELD -- There was a collective murmur around Richland County on social media Thursday afternoon.

"We're yellow! Wait, the last two weeks we were red! How did we jump up two spots in a week? Does that mean I can take my mask off?"

Let's answer the last question first. Masks stay on when not at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The statewide mask mandate in public, regardless of a county's level on the statewide, color-coded Public Health Advisory System, remains firmly in place.

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Statewide, the numbers cited Thursday afternoon by Gov. Mike DeWine remained ominous. DeWine said there had been 1,733 new positive COVID-19 tests in the last 24 hours, a new daily high, breaking the previous high of 1,679 established July 17.

He said there were 125  additional hospitalizations (above the 21-day state average of 100), 20 deaths (one below the average of 21) and 21 new ICU admissions (three above the average of 18.)

There were 13 fewer "red" counties than that week before, but many more orange counties, showing urban areas had improved but more rural areas were worsening.

The improvement from "red," or level three, to "yellow," or level one, technically means "there is active exposure and spread of COVID-19 in Richland County," but it's currently no longer "very high exposure."

Public Health Advisory System updated map

Here was the statewide Public Health Advisory System map on July 23.

Digging into the numbers reveals how Richland County improved in the fight against coronavirus in the last week or so. They also show how quickly it could go back.

The PHAS uses statewide relies on seven indicators to show the spread of COVID-19. For the past few weeks, Richland County had "triggered" four of them, prompting the "red" status.

The four were: new cases per capita; proportion of cases not found in congregate situations; sustained increase in emergency room visits and sustained increase in outpatient visits.

This week, Richland County met just one of the seven -- proportion of cases found in non-congregate care settings. The state has said this indicator shows the amount of community spread of the virus.

From July 24 to July 30, two-thirds of the county's new cases were found in non-congregate care environments. That's down from 92 percent the week before and 85 percent two weeks ago, but still high enough to trigger the indicator, which is 50 percent.

So where did the county improve?

We had fewer new cases, for one. Richland County reported 57 new cases in the last two weeks. With a county population of 121,154, that means there were 47.05 new cases per 100,000 population. The "trigger" is at 50 per 100,000, so this was the first indicator taken off the county's list.

Second, the county also saw fewer COVID-19 related emergency room visits. On July 28, the seven-day average was 3.86 visits, down from 4-plus for several consecutive days prior. That reversed a steady rise from 2.43 on July 19 that peaked at 4.57 on July 26.

This indicator is "triggered" if a county sees an increasing trend of at least five consecutive days in the number of visits to the ER with a COVID-like illness or a diagnosis over the last 3 weeks.

The idea behind this indicator is it provides information on the health care seeking behavior of the population and a sense of how concerned residents are about their current health status and the virus.

Third, Richland County saw fewer outpatient visits related to COVID-19. This indicator is "triggered" if a county has an increasing trend of at least five consecutive days in the number of people going to a health care provider with COVID symptoms, who then receive a COVID confirmed or suspected diagnosis over the last three weeks.

This indicator is said to provide information on the health care-seeking behavior of the population and a sense of how concerned residents are about their current health status and the virus.

On July 28, Richland County had a seven-day outpatient visit average of 13.43, a gradual decline from the 25.71 it recorded on July 21 and also below the PHAS-period peak of 30.29 on July 13.

Richland County also didn't trigger the remaining three indicators -- total increase of new cases, hospital admissions and ICU bed occupancy. It has not been flagged in those three yet in the PHAS.

Does any of this mean COVID-19 is beaten in Richland County? In a word, no.

On Thursday, for example, Richland County reported 13 new positive tests in the last 24 hours, according to the Ohio Dept. of Health website with one new hospitalization.

The death toll in the county remained at 11, with five of those coming in July, according to Richland Public Health, though mortality rates are not included in the PHAS.

So what should county residents continue to do?

-- Facial coverings continue to be mandated in the entire state. This includes when in any indoor location that is not a residence; outdoors and 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. This does not apply to vehicles engaged in direct travel through a county that does not stop in that county.

-- Limit activities as much as possible and follow all current health orders.

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

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

-- Increase caution when interacting with others not practicing social distancing or wearing face covers.

-- Avoid traveling to high-risk areas.

-- Follow good hygiene standards, including: hand washing, hand sanitizer and try to avoid touching your face.

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

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 a.m. to 8 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?"