Ohio University amid Pandemic

A student walks across an empty College Green. Photo by Ben Peters

By Ben Peters

Athens NEWS Associate Editor

Athens County remains ranked in the top five counties in Ohio for another week in terms of coronavirus case occurrences, reporting 191.3 cases per 100,000 people between Sept. 14-27, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

As of Tuesday afternoon, there are 740 total known cases of COVID-19 in Athens County: 154 of these known cases are active, and 584 are recovered cases, according to the Athens City-County Health Department.

Last week also marks one month since Ohio University’s fall semester began. Since then, the total numbers of confirmed and probable virus cases in the county have increased at rates not seen since July, when cases soared nationwide.

The university’s second phase recently began, with more than 7,000 students expected to make a return to campus.

More than 1,000 underclassmen were expected to move into residence halls, on top of the more than 400 that are already living on campus, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. Thousands more are likely to move into off-campus residences if they have not already.

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

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine noted during a Sept. 17 news conference that many outbreaks of the virus in Athens County are associated with the “off-campus activities” of OU students.

According to the university’s dashboard as of Tuesday afternoon, 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.

Out of the at least 42 self-reported to the hotline tests for Athens campus employees, two have come back positive.

“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.

OU last week, the day after it began randomly testing students in an effort to discover asymptomatic cases, reported 8 positive test results of the 114 people tested, according to a release from Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations and a Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine faculty member.

The numbers of newly reported daily cases on average in Athens County have slightly decreased within the past week from a recent peak average of 15 new cases per day to an average of about 12 new cases each day, according to an Athens NEWS database of local COVID-19 numbers.

Daily new cases statewide are on average also slightly decreasing relative to the rates at which they had been rising throughout September. As of Tuesday, ODH reported 152,907 total COVID-19 cases in Ohio and 4,783 total deaths associated with the virus in the state.

Two deaths are associated with COVID-19 in Athens County, both of which occurred in the 60-69 age bracket.

Athens County was again labeled as a Level 2 county in the Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System.

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.

Level 1 counties have “active exposure and spread” of the virus and have triggered zero to one of the seven case indicators. Level 2 counties have “increased exposure and spread” and have triggered two to three of the case indicators.

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 119 new cases reported over the past two weeks, the system reported. Between Sept. 16-22, the county had a non-congregate percentage of cases of 100 percent.

Level 3 counties have “very high exposure and spread” and have triggered four to five of the case indicators.

No counties in Ohio are classified as Level 4, the most severe public health advisory. ODH recommends residents of these counties only leave home for supplies and essential services.

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