Long-Term Care Facility In Athens Co. Sees Sudden Spike in COVID-19 Cases

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — A long-term care facility in Athens County that had no coronavirus cases on Friday reported 19 cases on Monday.

This development was reported to the Athens City Council Monday evening by Jack Pepper, administrator of the Athens City-County Health Department.

Pepper said that COVID-19 cases in Athens County, which have been concentrated mostly in Ohio University’s student population, are beginning to transition to the broader community.

A growing number of the newer cases cannot be traced back to the campus, Pepper said. “It’s no longer fair to exclusively place blame on the student population,” he said.

The sudden spike at the long-term care facility is also a reminder of “how rapidly you can see an explosion of cases” when the virus takes hold, he said.

Pepper did not name the facility. WOUB will provide more information as it becomes available.

COVID-19 data for October 26, 2020. [Athens City County Health Dept.]
Gillian Ice, who oversees the university’s coronavirus response efforts, confirmed that COVID-19 cases among students appear to have peaked last week and have been declining since then.

She also told the council that while people may assume that big gatherings are the most responsible for spreading the virus, it’s actually small gatherings of just two or three people that are the primary source of spread right now, not just on campus but in the community.

As the virus spreads to more vulnerable populations in the county, it will place a greater demand on local hospitals, Pepper said. He said the county is already seeing an increase in the number of emergency room visits by people with coronavirus-like symptoms and in the number of people being admitted.

The number of COVID-19 cases has been on an overall upward trend in Ohio as in much of the country, and health officials expect some Ohio counties may transition soon into Level 4 under the state’s ranking system, Pepper said. Level 4 is the most serious, indicating severe exposure and spread in a county.

Some of the rise can be attributed to coronavirus fatigue as people grow increasingly tired of the restrictions of daily life, Pepper said.

“We need to start reminding people that you cannot become complacent,” he said. “Now is not the time to become complacent. Now is the time to become vigilant.”

Given the spread of the coronavirus into the broader community, Pepper said he’s been in touch with state health officials about arranging some popup clinics in Athens County that will allow people to get tested at little or no cost. He said he’s been getting more calls from people lately who want to get tested but cannot afford it.

Pepper also reported that he received an email Monday from the Ohio Department of Health’s Wastewater Monitor Network noting that the viral load in the wastewater coming out the city’s wastewater treatment plant has increased 10-fold in the past couple of weeks.

It’s too soon to draw any conclusions from this, Pepper said. “It really doesn’t mean anything other than putting us on notice that we should be paying attention,” he said.