Miami parties drive Butler County back to Level 3 as coronavirus concerns rise

Butler County has been elevated to Level 3 in the state’s Public Health Advisory System and is now is among Ohio’s top five counties in per-capita rate of novel coronavirus incidents.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Butler County had 841 reported new cases of the coronavirus between Aug. 19 and Tuesday. The county is fourth on the per-capita list with 219.5 virus cases per 100,000 residents. Butler County has an estimated 383,134 residents.

“Sadly Butler County returns to red this week,” said DeWine, referring to the state’s color-coded health advisory system as Butler County’s move from Level 2 to Level 3.

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The spike in the county’s novel coronavirus cases over the past two weeks — which is nearly 2 1/2 times more than the two weeks prior — resulted in the county returning to Level 3, or red. Butler County started out in the red category when the advisory system was introduced several weeks ago.

The county has met four out of the seven COVID-19 indicators, including a spike in outpatient visits per day.

Miami University students are a big reason for that spike.

As of Wednesday, the school reported 704 total cases, with 60.5 percent of those cases reported between Monday and Wednesday, according to the school. There were 249 new reported cases on Monday and 132 on Wednesday.

Off-campus parties are the primary reason for the spike of virus cases, said Miami University President Gregory Crawford, who appeared with DeWine during the governor’s statewide news conference on Thursday.

“The surge in cases really demonstrates the aggressive nature of this virus,” Crawford said.

Miami University won’t start in-person and hybrid classes until Sept. 21, and first- and second-year students won’t move into campus dorms until Sept. 14. However, there are many upperclassmen living off-campus in the surrounding Oxford community.

Parties and gatherings in the early weekends in August “is what’s responsible for the surge,” Crawford said.

“Our message to students is we put a lot of protocols in place to keep everyone safe and healthy,” he said. “And now, as individuals in order for each us to be healthy, all of us have to be healthy. So take the individual responsibility to wear your mask, do your social distancing and just be very careful out there.”

DeWine said that “the good news is if we’re seeing new cases, that means there’s testing. That means the university is aggressive going after this problem.”

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Crawford said the school has implemented a new testing strategy, which will test more than 3,000 students per week. Wide-net and surveillance testing will be implemented in addition to traditional diagnostic tests of people presenting virus symptoms.

“The two approaches help identify asymptomatic individuals who are positive, or potential clusters of positive cases,” he said.

Wide-net testing will allow the school to test individuals who have potentially been exposed to the virus but maybe not yet identified as a close contact in the tracing process. Surveillance testing will identify a sample for testing even though that person may not be symptomatic nor identified as having been in close contact with an infected person.

Crawford said the school will also invest in technology that will provide test results within 15 to 20 minutes, and once operational “it will further enhance and advance our testing strategy here in Oxford.”

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