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‘We have not flattened out yet in Butler County’: Butler County tops 300 coronavirus cases

Jenny Bailer, commissioner of the Butler County General Health District, speaks at a news conference on Friday, March 13, 2020, after the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Butler County. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
Jenny Bailer, commissioner of the Butler County General Health District, speaks at a news conference on Friday, March 13, 2020, after the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Butler County. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

The number of novel coronavirus cases increased 509 percent in April and topped 300 as of Friday.

With cases continuing to rise, the Butler County health commissioner is urging strict adherence to guidelines as the state slowly reopens.

The total number of positive novel coronavirus, known COVID-19, cases was 43 on April 1 tallied 262 Thursday, and six people have died from the disease, according to the county’s General Health District. Health Commissioner Jenny Bailer held a joint press conference with the county commissioners Friday and asked residents to stay vigilant in their handwashing, mask-wearing — although they aren’t mandated — and social distancing.

“Our cases continue to go up in the county. We have not flattened out yet in Butler County, we looked for that to happen, we hope that that will happen,” Bailer said. “We’re not surging at an exponential rate, but we have not flattened out as much as we would like in Butler County.”

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At the outset of the pandemic, Bailer warned cases would start increasing just because prior to mid-March if there were no test kits in the state. The first case was confirmed March 13, and by mid-April cases had risen to 142. As of Friday, the number increased to 303.

People have also voiced concerns the virus is more prevalent among African Americans. Bailer reported 52 percent of the cases were white, 45 percent were non-white and rest were an unknown race. The county is 80 to 85 percent white, “so that means they are occurring more often in non-white populations.”

As more cases come in, Bailer said her office must ramp up contact tracing, meaning contacting everyone the infected person has come been with. She said it takes about 20 phone calls per case to track people down and quarantine them. She has four full-time staffers, and about eight part-time medical students and health-trained people making calls. She said she needs to add about 10 new volunteers to handle the “surge” of cases.

Friday heralded the beginning of a gradual reopening of businesses statewide. Gov. Mike DeWine and state health director Dr. Amy Acton have allowed doctors’ and dentists’ offices to resume treating patients, using strict safety guidelines.

People have been critical of the state recently because predicted surge numbers that could have overwhelmed hospitals didn’t materialize, but the state remained locked down. Bailer warned if people are reckless as they emerge from sequestration the surge could still come.

“If we jump into this and abandon all those good practices that you’ve learned how to do and are doing so well, if we abandon them all at once then we will have the surge that we have been fearful of,” Bailer said. “So do your part and stay apart.”

The weekly epidemiology report Bailer’s office prepares showed the largest number of positive cases are from the 45014 zip code which is largely Fairfield with 60 cases out of the 257 positives earlier this week. The next highest was 46 cases in the 45011 zip code which is mainly Hamilton, and 37 cases in the Liberty Twp. to Middletown area.

The report showed 58 percent, or 148 females, have contracted the illness and 34 percent of the people were in the 50 to 64 age group. Cough, shortness of breath and fever remain the most prevalent symptoms.

Bailer said 26 percent of the people have been hospitalized.

Butler County commissioners have told Bailer they will support her in whatever she needs financially to deal with the pandemic. They have held press conferences nearly every week since the crisis arose with Bailer and others to keep residents informed.

“It’ll take some time to get back to where we were,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “Butler County is strong and resilient and all of you matter.”