Highland County has gone to “Alert Level 3 – Red” for the first time since the Ohio Department of Health started using the Ohio Public Health Advisory System (OPHAS) for tracking COVID-19 trends. I want to provide some background on how this was determined, what this means for the county, and what happens next.

How Does the OPHAS Work?

Here are the basics. There are seven alert indicators used to determine a county’s risk level. The full list can be found here: https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/OPHASM/Summary-Alert-Indicators.pdf.

This statewide alert system is far from perfect, but it can still be useful in providing perspective on how Highland County is doing.

A Level 3 Red Risk Level means that Highland County has met four to five indicators. This week, we have met the following indicators:

• Met - New cases per capita (215.5 cases per 100,000 residents);

• Met - Sustained increase in new cases (2.0 average cases on Sept. 29 to 9.1 by Oct. 9);

• Met - Proportion of cases not in a congregate setting; and

• Met - Sustained increase in outpatient visits (.3 average visits on Oct. 4 to 2.4 on Oct. 11).

What Does “Alert Level 3 – Red” Mean?

The Ohio Department of Health provides the following advice for Alert Level 3 as “Very high exposure and spread. Limit activities as much as possible. Follow all current health orders.”

An increase in our alert levels does not trigger any immediate actions or change local policy for COVID-19. No school district plans are tied into state alert levels.

It is also important to remember that the cases and trends we are seeing now are not real time. We are looking into the past at where we were in the past week or so. It takes time for someone to become symptomatic, time for someone to feel sick enough to get tested and time for the tests to be analyzed and returned.

What it really means is that we are trending in the wrong direction with COVID-19 cases in Highland County. It means we need to be careful, and that we need to renew our efforts to reduce disease transmission.

What Happens Next?

We don’t know what happens next. Our disease and hospitalization trends right now in Highland County and across Ohio are concerning. Increased community cases also mean that we are likely to continue to see cases in our schools, long-term care, rehab centers, jails and other congregate settings.

With cooler weather and more indoor activities, I don’t think we will see a quick drop in cases again like what we saw in July. This upward trend is more likely to be with us for a while.

It has never been a question of whether we will get through this pandemic. It has always been a question of how high the cost will be. Stay home if you feel sick, wash your hands, keep your distance from others, avoid large gatherings where possible, and wear a mask.

If you care about the health of this community, please show it with your actions.