As Cases Decline, Spikes in SW Ohio are ‘Worrisome’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — While the rate of positive diagnoses for the coronavirus has steadily decreased since the peak in mid-April, recent spikes in cases in the southwestern part of the state have drawn the attention of the governor’s office.

Key indicators of COVID-19 – cases, deaths, hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care – remain below the 21-day average, recent data show. The 21-day average is what the Ohio Department of Health looked to when determining when to reopen the state.

“What we have been seeing statewide is a downward trend,” said Gov. Mike DeWine during a briefing Thursday. The exception, however, is southwestern Ohio.

Particularly Clarke, Montgomery, Green, Warren and Hamilton counties, which have seen spikes in cases over the last few days or weeks. Such trends in these counties “are worrisome,” DeWine said.

In Montgomery County, for example, a chart shows an increase of cases to more than 20 in a seven-day average in early June, up from around 10 cases in late May. Currently, the county has 1,118 cumulative cases, including 229 hospitalizations and 18 deaths.

DeWine cited driving mobility in the county, which he says has surpassed pre-COVID 19 levels – a trend that is common throughout the state and likely the country.

“Part of that difference is time of year,” DeWine said. “I would suspect there is more driving in the summer.”

Data from the health department identify zip codes 45424, 45417 and 45426 as areas with the most cases in the county. Those areas include Riverside, Huber Heights, Trotwood and parts of Dayton. Outbreaks at tursing homes and some workplaces have driven the increases, he said.

While Greene County doesn’t have as many cases as Montgomery – just 156 cumulative cases thus far – it’s the sudden increased rate that has the health department concerned, DeWine said. From June 2 to June 14, the county has seen the seven-day average in cases spike to more than three daily, up from less than one.

Charts for Hamilton, Warren and Clark counties show similar spikes, the latter of which driven by a recent outbreak at Dole Fresh Vegetables Co. in Springfield, where a reported 200 workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

“None of this should come as a real shock,” DeWine said. “We’re going to see hotspots. We’re going to see increases in cases at different times in different parts of the state.”

The governor’s administration is taking action nonetheless. DeWine held a conference call with mayors, county officials and health officials in all five counties to discuss a plan of action.

The Ohio National Guard will be moved in more heavily into these areas to assist with testing. The state is working with hospitals in the region to establish testing locations, including pop-up testing sites that will be open for half a day or a full day.

Pop-up testing sites will be open in Columbus and Elyria on Friday. Sites in Portsmouth, Xenia and Dayton will be open next week. Testing locations can be found at Coronavirus.ohio.gov under the Testing and Community Health Centers section of the site.

Since the governor announced testing would be open to all Ohioans who want one, he encouraged residents in those five counties – particularly in the zip codes most affected – to get a test. As testing capacity in the state “continues to go up,” DeWine said testing will get more aggressive.

Other counties that see similar spikes can expect to see such actions taken there as well, he added.

The state’s stockpile of personal protective equipment has also increased, the governor said. He announced a Hospital PPE Readiness Stockpile, which will be compiled and stored by hospitals statewide to be distributed to residents and staff at long-term care centers “should they see a spike in COVID-19 cases,” he said.

The stockpile is a collaborative effort between the Ohio Hospital Association, hospitals throughout the state and state agencies, including the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Department of Medicaid and the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

In addition to each hospital’s own inventory of personal protective equipment, they’ve started to build a 30-day supply based on the state’s surge models, number of residents and staff at nursing homes, and recent allocations of equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Equipment in the stockpile will be tracked daily by the Ohio Hospital Association.

“Having a stockpile like this is really important,” DeWine said. “And this type of coordination simply did not exist two months ago.”

Along with increases in the southwestern part of the state, Ohio has seen increased cases among children. Dr. Amy Edwards, associate medical director for pediatric infection control at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, says in the last month or so she has seen an increased number of children testing positive.

Part of that is from the increased testing capacity in the state, she said.

“But what we’ve really been seeing recently is an increase in the percent of tests that are coming back positive, particularly in symptomatic children,” she said. “Meaning that for kids who have symptoms of a respiratory viral disease, a larger percent of them are coronavirus than earlier in the pandemic.”

As the state reopens, it’s to be expected that positive cases among kids will increase, she said. And while the increase hasn’t been dramatic – about 5% or 6% – it’s been steady, “and it has not stopped increasing as of yet,” she said.

Along with that increase, the state has seen a “slight uptick” in hospital admissions among kids testing positive for COVID-19.

Edwards advised parents to be on the lookout for symptoms. Typically, symptoms might not amount to more than a stuff nose or other mild respiratory symptoms. But if a child is having trouble breathing or has loss of appetite, parents should talk to their pediatrician, she said.

She also advised parents to monitor kids for multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which includes symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rash, bloodshot eyes or feeling extra tried.

More information can be found at the Rainbow Babies section of University Hospitals website.

Pictured: During his Thursday briefing, Gov. Mike DeWine reviews charts that show recent spikes of coronavirus cases in southwestern Ohio.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.