STAFF PHOTO BY NICK GRAHAM

COVID death rate in Montgomery, Greene lower than other large counties

The COVID-19 death rates per capita in Montgomery and Greene counties are lower than almost all of Ohio’s other highly populated counties, but health officials can’t cite a clear reason for the difference.

As of Friday afternoon, Greene County has had only five reported COVID-19 deaths among a total population of 161,573, or one death per 32,315 residents, per Ohio Department of Health data. Montgomery County has 17 reported COVID-19 deaths among 535,153 residents, or one death per 31,480 residents.

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Among Ohio’s 20 most-populous counties, they rank No. 2 and No. 3 for the fewest COVID-19 deaths per capita, behind only Clermont County on the east side of Cincinnati.

For comparison, Lucas County, which includes Toledo, has had 240 deaths, or one per 1,841 residents, and Mahoning County, which includes Youngstown, has had 173 deaths, or one per 1,380 residents.

Medical and public health officials said there are several possible contributing reasons for the low death rates in some local counties, but no simple, overriding answer.

Glen Solomon, chairman of internal medicine at Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine, said “we honestly don’t know for certain” why local death rates have been comparatively low.

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With close to 70% of Ohio’s deaths tied to nursing homes, the public health departments of both Montgomery and Greene counties touted strong communication with their local long-term care facilities.

But Michael Dohn, medical director of Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County, said he couldn’t say whether local efforts with nursing homes were any more robust than elsewhere in the state.

Ohio Department of Health press secretary Melanie Amato said some areas of the state have had more cases and outbreaks in their vulnerable populations. But she said the number of COVID cases in any given area is still a less reliable number than the number of COVID deaths.

“We are working on a seroprevalence study that will give us some idea of the true number of cases we’ve had in Ohio,” Amato said.

Ohio deaths per capita have generally been higher in more densely populated counties. So far, 35 of Ohio’s 88 counties have recorded either zero or one COVID-19 death, according to ODH. All 35 of those counties have populations under 90,000.

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Dohn pointed out that Montgomery County’s density of 1,150 people per square mile is less than half that of Cuyahoga County (2800) or Franklin County (2400), each of which have much higher death rates.

Among 20 Ohio’s largest counties, Butler and Warren fall roughly in the middle in terms of COVID-19 death rate, ranking eighth and ninth, respectively. Butler County has had 29 deaths (one per 12,694 people) and Warren has had 20 (one per 10,634).

Clark County, which falls just outside of Ohio’s 20 most-populous counties, would rank among the lowest death rates in that group, at one death per 23,055 residents.

Solomon said Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, as the region’s largest employer, contributed by reacting quickly to the crisis. He also said the larger Cleveland and Columbus areas may have had more travel from hot spots like New York, Europe, and China than Dayton did, “meaning that we did not import as many people spreading the virus.”

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Don Brannen, an epidemiologist with Greene County Public Health, said Greene County is helped by being more suburban (less dense), with a slightly higher median income (tied to better health outcomes), and also has seen recent expansions in the availability of health care services, including at Soin Hospital.

“Our public health nursing and public health education programs are crucial to that success,” Brannen said.

Dohn cited a strong collaboration between government, hospital and social agencies in Montgomery County, saying “this region is well practiced in talking to each other.”

Like Brannen, he cited the quality of health care in the region when people do get sick. While some counties ranked roughly the same for COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Montgomery County ranks 13th of Ohio’s 88 counties with 651 cases and seventh with 167 hospitalizations, but only 25th in deaths, with 17.

Dohn said Dayton area residents did an excellent job of following hygiene and social distancing protocols, helping to limit the spread of the disease, but those factors are hard to quantify.

Google’s community mobility report for Ohio, which uses cell phone data to track people’s visits to work and stores, shows Montgomery County residents stayed home more in the past two months, but roughly at the same rate as the state average.

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