OTTAWA — Public health officials are urging caution as Labor Day weekend social gatherings, combined with the start of the new school year and resumption of fall sports, could lead to a spike in new COVID-19 cases at a time when much of the region is already seeing high levels of community spread of the disease.
As of Sunday, Putnam, Mercer, Shelby, Auglaize and Allen counties were among the 20 counties with the highest occurrence of COVID-19 cases in Ohio over the past two weeks, with Putnam County claiming the highest number of new cases per 100,000 people in that period.
Many of those cases are stemming from social gatherings, including a golf outing in mid-August that has been traced to at least 10 positive cases in Putnam County, and unattributable community spread in which a person is unable to identify the source of their infection.
“We should remember that some people will not show symptoms of being sick at all, and they can be contagious,” Gov. Mike DeWine said during his Tuesday press conference.
DeWine pointed to the increase in COVID-19 cases traced back to Fourth of July gatherings and vacations, which occurred as the state was already seeing a rise in new cases and positivity in June.
By mid-July, DeWine said, Ohio was averaging 1,500 new cases per day with a positivity rate of 6.5%.
Likewise, COVID-19 cases have been rising in the region all summer.
Allen County reported 92 new COVID-19 cases in June, followed by another 305 new cases in July and 522 cases in August. Mercer County, which had already experienced an outbreak at Cooper Farms earlier in the pandemic, saw an explosion of new cases in July and August. And Putnam County reported 80 new cases in the last week alone.
“The best thing to do is keep the event small,” Putnam County Health Commissioner Kim Rieman said.
While outdoor gatherings are still considered the safest option, Rieman said people should still wear masks and stay 6 feet apart for “another added layer of protection.”
“And of course, if you have any inkling that you’re not feeling well, even if it seems minor, to stay home from those kinds of events,” Rieman said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially now that school is in session.”