How did Butler County drop in state coronavirus level? Masks, masks, masks

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Ohio K-12 students required to wear masks to school

When Butler County ranked as one of Ohio’s worst in a new state coronavirus tracking system last month, officials focused on a key point: Get masks to people, and fast.

Matt Haverkos, director of the Butler County Emergency Management Agency, said the county’s proactive mask distribution program — along with residents’ willingness to wear masks, keep proper social distances and frequently washtheir hands — are key components for the county’s drop from near-Level 4 to Level 2 in the state measurement.

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The color-coded system is based on seven indicators ranging from new cases per capita to sustained increases in emergency room visits, according to the Butler County General Health District. They include: New cases per capita, new cases increase, non-congregate cases, emergency department visits, outpatient visits, hospital admissions and ICU bed occupancy. An update to the state levels will be announced today.

Butler County has reported 3,341 total cases of coronavirus, according to the ODH. The county has seen 69 coronavirus-related deaths.

For two weeks in late July through Aug. 11, the latest data available, Butler County saw 326 new cases. During the same time, Warren County saw 199 cases and Preble County saw 44, according to the ODH.

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 understands “masks are controversial,” but they’re the most efficient way to reduce the spread of COVID, she said.

Haverkos receives COVID-19 reports every morning from the ODH, and he said Butler County continues to improve compared to its 21-day average. He called the drop in cases “a great reassuring piece” that the county has implemented the correct steps.

In early July, the county announced a free program that provided masks to residents. Haverkos said more than 30,000 masks were provided to the county by the state EMA at fire stations and businesses throughout the county.

Then recently, Butler County school and emergency services officials announced the distribution of 300,000 masks to schools to help protect students and staffers from the coronavirus.

The local public safety effort comes from a recent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) donation of 2 million masks to the Ohio Department of Education.

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The 300,000 masks are being distributed to schools in southwest Ohio by the Butler County Educational Services Center (BCESC) officials working with the county’s EMA.

The local BCESC was picked as one of nine distribution hubs in Ohio and will help coordinate the delivery of masks to schools in the region, said Katherin Clayton, director of public school safety for the center located in Hamilton.

School officials said they are grateful for the free masks, in the wake of Gov. Mike DeWine’s orders requiring all K-12 schools in the state must have students, teachers and staffers wear masks when schools open.

Fairfield fire Chief Don Bennett said more than 1,500 masks have been picked up by residents at Fire Headquarters and Station 32. He said elderly residents — “the intended audience” — have picked up several masks every week.

“The program has been successful,” Bennett said.

He said the “timing was right” because the program was launched soon after DeWine ordered a mask-wearing mandate for Ohioans.

He believes wearing a mask goes “a long way” toward creating a healthier environment. He said when people see you’re wearing a mask they’re less likely to “get up in your business” so they naturally keep proper social distance.

Kavon Chruch Davis, 6, smiles under his face mask after picking up his laptop at Mayfield Elementary School Monday, August 17, 2020 in Middletown. Middletown School district is handing out laptops, mobile hotspots and other supplies this week to students in grades 1 through 12 in preparation for remote learning for the start of the school year. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
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Kavon Chruch Davis, 6, smiles under his face mask after picking up his laptop at Mayfield Elementary School Monday, August 17, 2020 in Middletown. Middletown School district is handing out laptops, mobile hotspots and other supplies this week to students in grades 1 through 12 in preparation for remote learning for the start of the school year. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham