Back to purple? How Franklin County’s COVID-19 indicators are heading in wrong direction

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Franklin County’s top health official echoed Gov. Mike DeWine’s warning that the county is on the verge of turning purple, the state’s highest level for COVID-19 exposure and spread.

The latest advisory map from the state shows the county is in danger of going to level 4 or “Purple” next week Unless something changes.

“We are definitely seeing trends move in the wrong direction and that should be a warning for us,” said Joe Mazzola, Franklin Co. Health Commissioner. “We’re seeing more cases, more hospitalizations, more emergency department visits, outpatient visits, all associated with COVID-19. And so I think for us, we want to make sure out community understands that.”

The number of COVID cases has been slowly rising across the country, a trend that is starting to show up locally both in the community and in hospitals.

“We had been hovering around 100-150 cases a day and we’ve noticed over the last several days, we’ve gone over 200 cases a day,” said Dr. Mysheika Roberts with Columbus Public Health.

“We’re seeing more patients coming in on a day to day basis with COVID like symptoms. Our testing is still remaining fairly high,” said Dr. Mark Conroy, Emergency Medicine at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center

There are several factors driving the rise in cases, including variants and age ranges.

“Certainly, we have seen an increase in the number of new cases with respect to ages between 19 and 40, for example. I wouldn’t say it’s one thing or another though,” Mazzola said.

“Most of their cases have been under the age of 50 so this is a group that has just recently been eligible for the vaccine,” Roberts said. “Not everyone in that age group or those age groups has been vaccinated so it just reiterates the importance of everyone who’s eligible getting the vaccine as soon as they can.”

Although local health officials don’t want to predict whether or not Franklin County will be designated level 4 next week, they made it seem more like a probability than a possibility.

“I know that’s it difficult to change trends within that time frame. But I am optimistic that our residents will continue to take all the steps that they need to do to keep themselves and their families safe,” Mazolla said.

According to the current designations, residents in a level 4/purple county should only leave home for essential supplies and services.

Although they declined to discuss any specific plans, local health officials say another countywide advisory could be in the works if Franklin County does reach that threshold.

“Well, it might. It might. I think what we’ll do is see where we are next week. You know, hopefully we won’t have to make that determination,” Mazzola said. “But I think it’s our obligation to inform the public about the severity and the risk to our community. If we see trends continue in a certain direction, we will make recommendations that we believe are appropriate.”

“I think anything and all things are on the table,” Roberts said. “When we did do the stay at home advisory before, Obviously we were very concerned about our hospital capacity. At this point in time, although we’ve seen an increase in hospitalized patients, the hospital capacity is still there. We’re not concerned about reduced capacity. So I think we’ll have to wait and see. I think anything is possible but it’s a different situation than we saw in the fall when we did institute the stay at home advisory.”

Both Mazzola and Roberts hope the advisory encourages residents of the county to get vaccinated sooner rather than later.

“We want to make sure that our residents continue to do all that they can to protect themselves, to take those precautions necessary and of course get vaccinated as quickly as possible and I want to stress that vaccine is available in our community,” Mazzola said. “We’re going to be receiving an extra allocation of vaccine next week from the state of Ohio and we’re going to be working with many of our partners to make sure the vaccine gets to communities that have been so far under vaccinated.

Purple indicates severe exposure and spread. It is higher than red (very high), orange (increased) and yellow (active). To be designated at level 4, a county must trip at least six of seven alert indicators on consecutive weeks. Being placed on the watchlist means a county has tripped at least six indicators on the same week once.

Here are the indicators and which ones Franklin County tripped:

  1. New cases per capita (met)
  2. New cases increase (met)
  3. Non-congregate cases, such as outside nursing homes (met)
  4. Emergency department visits (met)
  5. Outpatient visits (met)
  6. Hospital admission (met)
  7. ICU bed occupancy (not met)

Franklin is the only county in Ohio on the watchlist. It was last at level 4 in December, along with several other counties, during a spike in cases during the fall and early winter. This week, there are 51 other counties at level 3 along with Franklin, 32 at level 2, and four at level 1.

DeWine indicated that the current rise in cases is essentially locked in a race with the state’s accelerating vaccination efforts.

“We could still turn this around if more people continue to get vaccinated,” he said Thursday. “This is a race. We are in a race. … It’s a life-and-death race.”

And Mazzola said Friday that Franklin County is ready to run even faster, with it scheduled to receive 3,000 additional doses of the Moderna vaccine next week, double the typical amount.

“We ask everyone to remain vigilant as more our residents have the opportunity to get their vaccine,” he said.

In Franklin County, 435,627 people had started the vaccination process as of Friday. That’s 33% of the county’s population.

A total of 256,733 have completed vaccination.

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