Entire Miami Valley now at ‘high’ community COVID level

CDC recommends masks for all people in public indoor spaces in this situation

The entire greater Dayton area now has a “high” COVID-19 community level per the CDC, as cases and hospitalizations continue to climb throughout the region and state.

Greene and Montgomery had been the only two local counties at a high community level. But Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also moved Butler, Clark, Champaign, Darke, Miami, Preble and Warren counties to “high.”

When determining community levels, the CDC looks at the number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the past week as well as new COVID hospital admissions and the percent of staffed inpatient hospital beds occupied by coronavirus patients.

At 28 months into the COVID era, people in the Miami Valley are getting used to living with the pandemic. Local health departments are still seeing a response, though, whenever the cases start to rise.

“Obviously, COVID has been going on for a while now, so the concern is not on the same level as it was the past year or two,” said Nate Bednar, director of Community Services at Miami County Public Health. “However, we have seen an increase in cases, and as that happens, we see (an) increase in calls and questions.”

About 42% of U.S. counties have a high community level of the virus, a huge increase from 6.5% last week, according to the CDC. There are 37.6% of counties with a medium community level and 20.4% at a low community level.

Statewide the number of hospital patients with COVID increased by 13% in the last week, with west central Ohio recording a 32% increase and southwest Ohio recording a 4% increase, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. There were 1,166 people hospitalized with COVID in Ohio as of Thursday.

The CDC recommends people in high COVID community level areas — the entire Dayton region now — wear a well-fitted mask while indoors in public regardless of vaccination status and to try to maintain improved ventilation in indoor spaces when possible.

Vaccination is another key strategy to prevent COVID deaths, but only about 58.6% of the state of Ohio is considered fully vaccinated, according to the Ohio Department of Health, well over a year after vaccines became available. And with the exception of Warren County (64.56% vaccinated), most of the Miami Valley lags behind the state average.

Within the region, vaccination rates vary from 38.37% and 47.28% in Darke and Miami counties, respectively, to 51.36% and 56.79% in Clark and Butler counties, respectively. Montgomery and Greene counties, which have continued to remain at high community levels, have vaccination rates of 55.55% and 55.41%.

“Our vaccine clinics have been busier, and we are experiencing a larger call volume related to vaccine. Most of these are related to boosters, but there are some occasional first and second doses,” Bednar said of Miami County’s efforts.

Miami County Public Health reminded people that those over 50 years old may be eligible for a second booster shot, explaining how CDC surveillance data shows adults ages 50 years and older with two boosters had 4 times lower risk of dying from COVID-19, compared to people who received one booster.

In response to the continued high spread, the city of Dayton is once again requiring its employees to wear masks at work while around others inside of city facilities and vehicles. That follows on the heels of a similar move at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“The risk of the spread of COVID is high, and we are seeing increasing numbers of cases in our city workforce,” City Manager Shelley Dickstein wrote in a message to employees.

Visitors, generally, are not required to wear masks in city facilities, a city spokesperson said, but masks are required at city commission meetings until further notice.

Other counties are seeing varied public responses to COVID as it continues. Warren County health officials commented they see both sides when it comes to locals’ level of concern.

In the state’s most recent variant data from June 19 through July 2, more than 99% of Ohio’s cases were attributed to four different omicron variants. Omicron BA.5 made up the majority of cases at 45.8%, followed by omicron BA.2.12.1 accounting for 31.3% of cases, according to ODH. Omicron BA.2 and omicron BA.4 accounted for 11.64% and 10.69% cases respectively.

“Variant strains in addition to people gathering more will increase cases,” said Allison Combs, public information officer with the Warren County Health District.

On Thursday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 26,610 cases were added to the state’s total in the last week. It’s the second week in a row Ohio has recorded more than 20,000 cases.

Ohio uses genomic sequencing to determine the variant, but it can only be performed on PCR tests with a high enough viral load.

For more information on how to get vaccinated, visit vaccines.gov or call 1-800-232-0233.