OTTAWA — Putnam County reached a new milestone Thursday as the rate of new COVID-19 cases is now five-and-a-half times higher than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold for high-incidence counties, reaching 549 new cases per 100,000 people identified in the last two weeks.
The CDC’s definition for high-incidence counties, set at 100 cases per 100,000 people reported in a two-week period, is itself a measure intended to identify communities where the coronavirus is spreading too quickly.
But the entire region, like most of Ohio, continues to see high incidence of new coronavirus cases with no signs of plateauing — and Putnam, Auglaize, Mercer and Allen counties are now the epicenter of Ohio’s latest surge.
Putnam County Health Commissioner Kim Rieman said social gatherings are still believed to be the primary culprit, as people relax around friends and family and pay less attention to the precautions they’ve been asked to take when they’re at work or school.
“It’s not a thing people want to do,” Rieman said, “but it’s a thing we have to do as we head into the holidays.”
But Auglaize County Health Commissioner Oliver Fisher said people are reporting fewer contacts to the health department today than they were seven months ago, which further complicates contact tracing efforts.
Like Rieman, Fisher suspects that social gatherings are fueling many of his county’s outbreaks, but “no one’s confirming these things.”
Instead, Fisher said most people who are contacted by the health department are only reporting close contact with the people who live in their household, and contact tracers are unable to verify whether anyone else has potentially been exposed.
Transmission within households is also occurring.
“Once a person in a household gets it,” Fisher said, “it’s generally spreading to all other individuals in the home,” which in turn exposes anyone who may have attended family get-togethers while the family was contagious.
Allen County is now seeing the fifth highest incidence of new COVID-19 cases per capita in Ohio, which have reached 345.9 cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks alone.
Since the start of October, Allen County has reported 651 new cases of COVID-19, which accounts for roughly 30% of all cases the county has recorded since March and is 25% higher than the previous highest-incidence month in August. Those trends and the rise in outpatient visits have pushed Allen County back into a Level 3 “Red” Public Health Advisory.
Hardin County has also moved back into a Level 3 advisory for the first time since July.
And Ohio set another record on Thursday with 2,425 new cases and 159 new hospitalizations reported in the last 24 hours.
There are now just shy of 1,300 COVID-19 patients in Ohio hospitals, compared to 853 hospitalizations on Oct. 9.
Outbreaks at long-term care centers
As the coronavirus spreads quickly through the population in northwest Ohio, the virus is also finding its way back into long-term care facilities.
In Allen County, eight residents and 10 staff members at Elmcroft of Lima assisted living community had active COVID-19 infections in the last week, according to the Ohio Department of Health, which last updated its long-term care facility case data on Wednesday.
There were 27 active cases among residents and nine staff cases at Wapakoneta Manor in the same period, Ohio Department of Health data show, while Heritage Center intermediate care facility reported 11 resident and three staff cases and the Meadows of Ottawa identified nine residents and nine staff members with active COVID-19 infections.
Other long-term care facilities in the region have been reporting cases among residents and staffers too, and the proportion of new coronavirus cases identified in congregate settings like nursing homes has been rising in Allen, Auglaize, Putnam and Mercer counties for several weeks.
Wapakoneta Manor, which is owned by Lima-based HCF Management, said it learned of a positive resident case on Sept. 1.
All residents in the same hall who were not already awaiting COVID-19 test results were tested after the case was discovered, the company said, after which residents who tested positive were put in isolation and the nursing home started building an isolation unit.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of our residents and staff has always been our priority,” Wapakoneta Manor Administrator Carol Lyons said in a statement provided to The Lima News. “Our goal is to prevent any further spread within our care community to our residents, staff and partners. We have notified all residents, staff and providers, and will continue to update family members with our weekly calls. We have further reduced exposure within the building by isolating residents to their room, initiated isolation procedures for suspected COVID-19 residents and are having sick staff stay home.”
Lyons said the facility is working with the local health department and physicians to treat residents appropriately if they develop any signs of respiratory illness.