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A cut-out of Rufus the Bobcat stands on Court Street. Photo by Ben Peters.

A new coronavirus database that organizes cases by zip code confirms that the 45701 zip code, which contains the City of Athens, carries the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in Athens County, far surpassing any other zip code associated with the county.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) unveiled the new COVID-19 dashboard function on Monday that shows the 45701 zip code as reporting 1,286 total cases of the coronavirus. The zip code with the second larges number of reported cases is the 45764 zip code, which contains Nelsonville, has 104 cases. That zip code also dips into neighboring Hocking County.

The 45732 zip code, which includes Perry County, Glouster and Jacksonville has 59 cases. Following behind is the 45780 zip code, which contains The Plains with 52 reported cases, per ODH.

Although the vast majority of cases in Athens County are among people ages 20-29, cases of COVID-19 in the county have for the first time shifted away from younger demographics toward older residents in what’s been described by public health officials as community spread that couldn’t be traced back to Ohio University student activity.

Leaders of hospital systems across the state, including OhioHealth and The Cleveland Clinic, spoke Monday during Gov. Mike DeWine’s press briefing where they pleaded with Ohioans to avoid small, private indoor gatherings as those are where most COVID-19 cases in the state are originating.

They said Ohio’s unprecedented surge in cases is resulting in hospitals becoming overwhelmed, not because of a lack of intensive care unit beds, but because employees are falling ill with the virus, leading to a shortage in health care workers.

While Athens County hasn’t experienced the sustained increase in daily reported cases that many other counties in the state have, a spokesperson for OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital said that staffing will be one of its biggest challenges if team members fall ill in the future.

“We’re seeing record number of patients in hospitals due to a COVID-19 diagnosis. And many of them are very ill. It’s no different at OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital. If the upward trend continues, it could potentially stretch us to capacity,” spokesperson Sydney Webber said in a statement.

ICU beds could also become a problem for O’Bleness should there be a surge in hospitalizations since it only has eight available. S{span}everal OhioHealth sites across the state, however, have been designated as locations to care for a surge of critical care patients in case O’Bleness were to become overwhelmed, including Riverside Methodist Hospital, Grant Medical Center, Doctors Hospital, Mansfield Hospital and Marion General Hospital.{/span}{/span}

Last week, two fatalities associated with the virus were reported in Athens County by the Athens City-County Health Department: one being a woman in the 70-79 age bracket who was listed as having died Nov. 1. A man in the 60-69 age bracket was listed with a Nov. 3 death. Both deaths were linked to long-term care facilities.

Two Athens County fatalities linked to the virus were reported earlier this year among men in the 60-69 age bracket, the being reported in March and the second in August.

As of Thursday afternoon, there are 1,569 total known cases of COVID-19 in Athens County: 295 are active, and 1,270 are recovered, according to the Athens City-County Health Department. In the entire state, 274,457 total cases have been reported, and 5,658 total deaths are associated with the virus, according to ODH.

As of Thursday, Athens County has ranked as No. 82 out of 88 counties in Ohio in terms of COVID-19 occurrence, with 255.6 cases per 100,000 people, ODH reported. The county continues to be labeled as Level 2, or orange, in the Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System, indicating “increased exposure and spread” of the virus, according to ODH, although DeWine noted during his Thursday press conference that the system has lost its significance.

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 two of the seven indicators under the alert system: new cases per capita and the proportion of cases that are non-congregate cases.

The county had 167 new cases reported over the past two weeks, the system reported.

Between Nov. 4 and Nov. 11, 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.

Ben Peters contributed to this report.

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