No social distancing at The Crystal

Ohio University students waiting to gain entry into The Crystal bar. Photo by Ben Peters.

The numbers of reported COVID-19 cases in Athens County continued to rise on average this week as thousands of Ohio University students returned to town.

As of Thursday afternoon, there are 773 total known cases of COVID-19 in Athens County: 154 are active, and 617 are recovered, according to the Athens City-County Health Department. Two deaths are associated with the virus in Athens County, both of which were men in the 60-69 age bracket, according to The Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

The county in the past seven days reported an average of between 12 and 17 new cases per day, a rise relative to last week’s averages, according to an Athens NEWS database of local COVID-19 numbers.

In her weekly public health update, Gillian Ice, special assistant to OU President Duane Nellis for public health operations and a Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine faculty member, said that 95 percent of known student cases were among those who live off-campus.

 “In line with our OHIO community increase, Athens County is experiencing a significant increase in cases, largely driven by OHIO students. This is extremely concerning, and I hope that we can all redouble our efforts to prevent further community spread,” Ice said.

Nearly 1,000 students moved into dorms within the past week, and an additional 82 students are expected to move in this week, according to OU’s COVID-19 dashboard. Thousands more likely moved into their off-campus residencies within the week as part of the university's second phase of reopening.

Of the 723 asymptomatic Athens campus students randomly tested for the virus through the university’s partnership with CVS Pharmacy, 34 have tested positive between Sept. 23-29 — a positivity rate of about 4.7 percent, the dashboard said.

As of Tuesday, at least 493 students on OU’s Athens campus have self-reported to the university’s COVID-19 hotline that they tested for the virus. At least 203 of those tests came back positive. At least 57 test results were still pending at the time.

Out of the at least 42 self-reported to the hotline tests for Athens campus employees, two have come back positive. At least four employee tests results were still pending.

“This data may not be a comprehensive reflection of all positive cases within our Ohio University community,” a university spokesperson previously said of the dashboard’s dataset.

Young people ages 20-29 continue to make up the vast majority of confirmed and probable cases in Athens County.

Athens County remains ranked in the top five counties in Ohio for the third week in a row in terms of coronavirus case occurrences, reporting about 208 cases per 100,000 people between Sept. 16-29, according to the ODH.

The county was again labeled Tuesday as a Level 2 county in the Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System, indicating “increased exposure and spread” of the virus, according to ODH.

ODH recommends those traveling to or residing in Level 2 counties exercise “a high degree of caution.”

DeWine in July unveiled the Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System, the warning system that measures the severity of the virus in Ohio’s counties by several case indicators: new cases per capita, sustained increase in new cases, proportion of cases that are not congregate cases, sustained increase in emergency room visits, sustained increase in outpatient visits, sustained increase in new COVID-19 hospital admissions and intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy. 

According to the advisory system, Athens County has triggered three of the seven indicators under the alert system: new cases per capita, proportion of cases that are not congregate cases and new cases increase.

The county had 136 new cases reported over the past two weeks, the system reported. Between Sept. 23-29, the county had a non-congregate percentage of cases of 100 percent. 

No counties in Ohio are classified as Level 4, the most severe public health advisory.

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