As state coronavirus deaths pass 2,000, Butler County changes its reporting

Ohio reached a milestone this week by topping 2,000 coronavirus deaths while Butler County officials say they have stopped reporting its death total daily because the data can be deceiving.

There have been 25 deaths in in the county of about 380,000 residents since the pandemic hit in mid-March. Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer has stopped publishing the death total in the county’s daily data update to its coronavirus website. Instead, she urges residents to view the weekly epidemiology report that is posted on the site on Thursdays.

“We will be reporting deaths by the date they occurred rather than by the date we were informed,” she told the Journal-News. “We feel this will improve the accuracy and value of the data we report to the public.”

Dr. Robert Lerer, former commissioner for the Butler County General Health District, said hospitalizations and emergency room and intensive care admittance figures carry more meaning than daily, cumulative positive case and death totals.

“It tells me very, very little, it gives me a number, but it gives me no context whatsoever,” Lerer said. “There’s a reason for that, we’re doing more and more tests, and the more tests that I do, the more cases I’m going to uncover.”

Lerer said the total number of deaths doesn’t tell him much either, because some people may have been languishing in ICU for months before they succumbed to the virus. Seeing individual dates, as Bailer now provides, is more meaningful, he said.

Gov. Mike DeWine mentioned Butler County specifically on Thursday when talking about the spread ratio, the number of people who are not practicing social distancing and infecting multiple people, as the state reopens for business.

“At some point we were at two, three persons that that one person was infecting. We’ve been hovering around one to one certainly for a few weeks,” DeWine said. “We got some disturbing news, frankly, out of Hamilton County, Butler County that those numbers were starting to go up in those counties I think one was at 1.2 and other was at 1.19. We don’t like to see that.”

The first positive test case was reported March 11, the first death was announced by the Hamilton health director on March 29. The number of positive cases grew slowly in the beginning but have ramped up this month, there were 37 positive tests in one day in early May, remained in the 20 to 30 range for much of the month and slowed to single digits last week.

The health district epidemiology report issued Thursday showed that as of Tuesday there have been 24 deaths, but another happened since the report was released. The largest number, five, occurred from May 5-12, and there were four deaths from May 19-26.

The report shows 122 people have been hospitalized over the course of the pandemic, 18 people were admitted to intensive care and 14 were intubated. Over the past week, 11 people went to the hospital.

The report shows 28.5 percent of the sick people have been white, 27.5 percent were listed as unknown and 9.7 percent have been black.

The largest number of cases, 227, live in the 45014 ZIP code, which is largely Fairfield and includes parts of Hamilton and Ross Twp. The 45011 ZIP code, which is mainly Hamilton and areas to the north, has had 182 cases. Bailer changed geographic reporting early in the pandemic from municipalities to ZIP codes. She said she was conforming to state reporting methods.

Statewide statistics Thursday showed 2,098 deaths, including probable cases, from the coronavirus. There were also 5,811 hospitalizations and 1,516 admitted to intensive care reported. The total cases include 31,625 confirmed and 2,290 listed as probable.

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