Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
Elections board gets COVID update
By William Kincaid
CELINA - The number of COVID-19 cases continues to mount in Mercer County, yet the disease has not resulted in catastrophe, Mercer County Health District Administrator Jason Menchhofer said.
Menchhofer updated Mercer County Board of Elections members on the local status of COVID-19, saying though case numbers remain high, the vast majority of people who have tested positive are not getting seriously ill.
Mercer County as of Tuesday morning posted a county record high incidence rate with 376 new cases over the past two weeks per 100,000 people Menchhofer said.
"That's the highest we've been since (the state) started tracking that actual number," he said.
The number of new cases over the past two weeks per 100,000 is a metric used across the state to compare COVID levels among different-sized areas. Mercer County has a population of about 41,000.
"I know the per 100,000 expression of that data, of course, causes a lot of heartburn with some people, but that's typically how it's done in epidemiology so that we can compare … the rate of increase here versus Cleveland versus Lima, you know, different-sized places," Menchhofer said. "It's like a percentage instead of just a raw number."
Mercer County has not gotten a reprieve from COVID-19 in months, he said.
"We have had, for the most part, a sustained, fairly high volume of new COVID cases since mid-July, really," he said.
Menchhofer pointed to a silver lining.
"Fortunately for us, it seems like the vast majority of people that are testing positive for it here are not getting seriously ill. That's not to say that some of them are not," Menchhofer said, noting that 25 people locally have died from the virus. "For the most part, people that we talk to that have it aren't affected that seriously"
Some of those afflicted with COVID-19 have said they've had colds worse than this, he said.
"Or maybe they feel rough for two or three days and then they're good. Those are some of the things that we hear. They thought it was just allergies or just a sinus infection until they lost their sense of taste and smell."
Mercer County has high numbers of COVID-19, Menchhofer said, "but at least it's not a catastrophic thing here locally."'
"When you look at the trends in terms of hospitalizations and emergency room visits and doctor visits … (and) ICU admissions, we're looking pretty decent on those in spite of our big number of cases," he said.
Menchhofer was asked to address the impact students returning to school have had on rising COVID-19 cases.
"As far as the numbers go, we're not seeing huge numbers in the schools," he replied. "We might have listed somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 cases across the county in schools. That might be a little bit higher than that now."
Anyone who has spent at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 must be quarantined, Menchhofer said.
"Most of our schools don't have the luxury of putting their desks 6 feet apart," he said. "Usually, I think, it ends up being kind of a ring around that (COVID-19) person, and it gets a little complicated when you get into sports teams and things like that."
The health district relies on school officials and coaches to determine the students or staff who may have had contact with the person testing positive for COVID 19, Menchhofer said. Most students are assigned seats in classes and on the buses to allow for easy contact tracing.
Menchhofer also explained the difference between isolation and quarantine.
"It's actually two different things," he said. "There's isolation for people who are sick or who have tested positive and then there's quarantine, which is what you do whenever someone is suspected to be exposed to something, and you want them to stay at home, stay away from other people for the period of time that it would take them to develop symptoms, become contagious and infect other people."
Those who test positive are asked to isolate at home for 10 days from the onset of symptoms while those who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 are asked to quarantine for 14 days.
"Now if I'm exposed to one of those people that's tested positive and I'm otherwise healthy, I'm going to be told that I need to quarantine for 14 days from the date that I was exposed," Menchhofer said, noting it takes that long for symptoms to develop in someone exposed to COVID-19.
Health officials push for people to follow safety measures.
"We're quite aware that we get different levels of compliance across different parts of our population," he said. "We're not sure what to do about that, but it is what it is at this point."