Rural Ohio counties account for highest COVID-19 occurrence rates


ATHENS COUNTY and FAYTETE COUNTY, Ohio (WCMH) — During recent coronavirus updates, Gov. Mike DeWine has pointed to several rural counties where the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing.  

“The numbers continue to go up. Athens, Fayette, Putnam Mercer, Darke — all of these counties are off the charts when it comes to the CDC’s definition of high incidence,” DeWIne tweeted on Tuesday. 

Included in the tweet is a list of all Ohio counties ranked. It’s based on cases per 100,000 people. Atop the most recent list is Athens County at a rate of 364.3 cases per 100,000. Athens City-County Health Commissioner Dr. James Gaskell says about 85 percent of the cases are in people 29 years old and younger, and most are Ohio University Students.

“We’re worried about spread from the college to the rest of the community but the college right now seems to be in a bubble and they’re infecting each other,” Dr. Gaskell said. “So far they’re not infecting the community at large.”

According to Dr. Gaskell, the numbers have gone up as Ohio University has brought more students back. The second highest county on the list is Fayette County with a rate of 347.1 cases per 100,000.

According to Leigh Cannon, Deputy Health Commissioner in Fayette County, a good portion of the blame can be put on various kinds of family gatherings. 

“We’ve kind of dropped the guard a little bit. [People think] ‘We can have a barbecue in the backyard or we can all go do this together,'” Cannon said. “That’s mostly where we’re seeing it. It’s with these large family gatherings.”

On Wednesday, the Ohio Department of Health reported its largest single day increase in new cases with 2,039. Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts says COVID fatigue and more people spending more time with others indoors are some of the reasons for the increasing numbers.  

“We have people from rural areas coming into urban areas and we have people from urban areas going into rural areas,” said Dr. Roberts. “The virus does not discriminate. It doesn’t care whether you live in an urban environment or a rural environment, and what we’re seeing in rural areas is bound to spill over into our urban central Ohio core as well.” 

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