Athens County now is classified as a “Level 3” county under the state’s Public Health Advisory Alert System. As a result, those inside the county are required to wear a facial covering in public spaces.
This countywide mandate, implemented on the state level to all Level 3 counties, came into effect on the evening of Friday, July 17.
Earlier this month, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled a new COVID-19 warning system, the Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System.
The system 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.
These indicators determine at what “level” a county rests in the Public Health Advisory Alert System. “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. The Ohio Department of Health recommends those traveling to or residing in these counties exercise a high degree of caution.”
“Level 3” counties have “very high exposure and spread” and have triggered four to five of the case indicators. ODH recommends those residing in these counties to “limit activities as much as possible.”
Athens County currently sits at this level. During his July 16 press conference, Gov. DeWine noted that the situation in Athens County has “rapidly accelerated with isolated outbreaks that have resulted from a concerning community spread.”
The Athens City-County Health Department noted in a July 16 press release that the “change in the alert level in Athens County is a response to the sustained increase in COVID-19 cases, the nature of the cases occurring as community spread and not in congregate settings, and an increase in the number of visits to the emergency department.”
The health department also noted that residents of red-level counties are required to wear a facial covering in public, an order that carries a “criminal penalty.”
“Everyone who can, must wear a facial covering and maintain safe distances of at least 6 feet from others. Through contact tracing of active cases, we now recognize how important it is to limit gatherings of any kind. They have been a significant contributor to the spread of the virus,” the health department stated.
In response to the elevated Ohio Public Health Advisory System alert level, the Athens City-County Health Department will be closed to walk-in traffic starting Monday, July 20.
According to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, Athens County has triggered six of the seven indicators under the alert system.
“During the past 14 days, 147 COVID-19 cases have been identified, which means the county exceeds the ‘high incidence’ category as defined by the Center for Disease Control,” the Ohio Public Health Advisory System explains in the Athens County profile. The profile also explains more than 73 percent of the county’s cases have been occurring in the past two weeks.
“Due to the clinical and reporting lags, these numbers may continue to grow for this reporting period,” the profile states. The county is also reportedly seeing an increase in the number of people seeking medical care due to COVID-19, according to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System.
No counties in Ohio are classified as “Level 4” counties as of today, but these counties reportedly have “severe exposure and spread” of the virus and have triggered six to seven of the case indicators. ODH recommends residents of these counties only leave home for supplies and essential services.
Athens County, however, is the only county in the state on the Level 4 watchlist.
The county has 284 total known cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon.