Butler County avoided the most serious coronavirus level, but officials urge precautions

One month after it neared Level 4, the most severe level in the state’s health advisory system for the coronavirus, Butler County improved in enough measurements to drop to a Level 2.

On July 9, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Butler County was one of three counties in the state approaching Level 4. At the time, Butler County was at Level 3, which means older Ohioans and those with medical conditions associated with COVID-19 complications should consider avoiding unnecessary contact with others, such as social gatherings, said Dan Tierney, spokesman for the governor’s office.

For one week in late June, there were 181 coronavirus cases reported in Butler County, the most in the county since the start of the pandemic earlier this year, the governor said. The average new cases reported each day nearly doubled from 15 to 29 between June 16 and July 3.

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But since then, Butler County has improved on some of its seven alert indicators used by the Ohio Department of Health to determine the level for each of the state’s 88 counties.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Jennifer Bailer, Butler County health Commissioner, said the decrease in the COVID case numbers and health alert level has happened because of increased mask wearing across the county. She said during July, she noticed “anecdotally that people started wearing masks more and more and we saw our numbers begin to creep down.”

On July 23, the governor put a mandatory mask order in place for Ohio. From July 23 until now, the county seen a “significant decrease” in the number of positive cases reported, she said.

The newest data from the state is expected to be released today.

The color-coded system is based on seven indicators. They include: New cases per capita, new cases increase, non-congregate cases, emergency department visits, outpatient visits, hospital admissions and ICU bed occupancy.

Butler County has met the criteria for three of the seven indicators and Preble and Warren counties have two indicators, according to the most recent data from the state. All three counties are listed as Level 2 that means residents should “exercise high degree of caution,” according to the ODH.

Butler County, with a population of 383,134, had 322 new cases for two weeks late in July and early August, followed by Warren County, with 234,602 residents, had 207 new cases, and Preble County, with 40,882 residents, had 35 new cases.

Hamilton health Commissioner Kay Farrar said the city is seeing about nine new cases per day, but some of those have been younger, healthier residents who don’t require extended hospitalization, Intensive Care Unit or placement on a ventilator.

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She’s seeing fewer older residents and those with underlying health conditions contract COVID-19. Since the disease can’t be stopped because it’s in the community, Farrar said the goal is to “control the disease.”

When asked for advice, she said residents should continue wearing masks, social distancing and frequently washing their hands.

“We need to stay the course,” she said. “It’s not near completion.”

While the county has seen an improvement, Middletown is reporting a wide range of new cases, said Jackie Phillips, health commissioner. Over the last several weeks, the number of new cases has been 32, 31, 22, 48 and 37, she said.

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While there was a drop of 11 new cases last week, Phillips said, “That’s still pretty high.”

When Phillips goes out in public, she sees various responses to COVID-19 from residents, from those who are “very obedient” to those who refuse to follow the governor’s orders to wear a mask in public.

She has heard from residents who have said they believe the virus is not serious and is “like the flu,” she said.

That’s when Phillips tries to explain to them the seriousness of the pandemic and how wearing a mask can prevent the spread of the disease.

There are 10 public school districts in the county and two of them — Middletown and Talawanda — are having remote learning classes to start the school year, according to officials. The two local Catholic high schools, Badin in Hamilton and Fenwick in Middletown, are having in-person classes.

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