Ohio expands wastewater tests that show early signs of coronavirus increases

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine Thursday unveiled a new state dashboard to track students and staffers - by district only - who have tested positive for the coronavirus. (File Photo\Journal-News)

Wastewater testing is helping give Ohio communities and the state’s prison system an early warning for an increase in coronavirus cases.

Monitoring wastewater can show evidence of the virus three to seven days before a medical diagnosis, Rebecca Fugitt of the Ohio Department of Health said Tuesday during Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus press conference.

The testing is already used weekly in Dayton and three dozen Ohio cities, but now those will be tested two times a week, Fugitt said.

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Twenty-five additional Ohio cities will be added in October to the wastewater testing program, she said.

Wastewater tests already have revealed increases in cases in Dayton, Columbus, Akron and Mansfield, according to the governor’s office.

Annette Chambers Smith, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the testing has given prisons about a seven-day warning of a possible increase in cases.

“And that’s precious time for us to plan,” Chambers-Smith said. “We’re using it as an early warning system.”

As a result, staff at facilities with evidence of coronavirus in wastewater will be required to get tested or if other indicators show signs of a jump in cases.

Also announced Tuesday, the Miami Valley is dropping out of the state’s top 10 counties for new coronavirus cases reported over the last two weeks, with only two counties in the region making the list.

Mercer County ranked second in the state with 252.6 cases per 100,000 people, and Shelby County was sixth with 189.3 cases reported from Sept. 14-27.

Darke, Miami, Butler, Auglaize, Greene and Montgomery counties all just missed the top 10, ranking 11th through 16th, respectively.

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Since the pandemic began, Ohio has recorded 152,907 total cases of coronavirus and 4,783 deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Just more than 1,100 new cases and 37 deaths were reported Tuesday. The state has been hovering around 1,000 cases reported each day, DeWine said. Ohio’s 21-day average is at 996 daily cases.

Hospitalizations increased by 106 for a total of 15,413. Thirteen ICU admissions were reported, bringing the total to 3,274.

DeWine reminded residents how fast the virus spreads, especially if people let down their guard.

He offered two examples of recent COVID-19 spread in Ohio, one involving a co-worker gathering and the other involving a wedding.

A group of 21 co-workers gathered two weeks ago, the governor said, and someone had the virus and didn’t know it.

“Now, 12 people have tested positive: nine additional coworkers and three of their family members,” DeWine said.

Eleven people tested positive after an Aug. 28 wedding, including the bride and the groom, plus parents and grandparents. One of the grandfathers died a couple weeks after the wedding.

“I’m not sharing these stories to hurt anyone. It’s heartbreaking,” DeWine said. “But it also shows us how quickly this virus can spread. These stories remind us that we cannot let our guard down.”

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