The Highland County Health Department’s Wednesday, Dec. 2 COVID-19 update included information on potential changes to quarantine guidelines and rising hospitalizations, as the county has a minimum of nine residents currently hospitalized for COVID-19.

After three straight updates without any information on current hospitalizations, on Wednesday the health department changed the number to “nine-plus.” There are also 68 cumulative hospitalizations, an increase of three in the past two days.

“At least nine people are hospitalized locally for COVID-19,” Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner said. “We do not have a good count for patients currently hospitalized in other facilities, but our overall hospitalizations in Highland County have risen to 68. Regional hospitalizations are still increasing with no indication of a slowdown.”

Recoveries saw the largest change, with 979 patients marked as recovered as of Wednesday. That is an increase of 93 in the past two days and 115 in the past week.

There are 255 actively sick patients as of Wednesday, a decrease of 32 since Monday but an increase of 38 compared to last Wednesday. Overall, there have been 1,257 COVID-19 cases in the county, an increase of 157 in the past seven days and up 63 in the past two days.

“We are still seeing between 12 and 21 new cases daily, though our new case numbers seem to be stabilizing somewhat,” Warner said. “We are also continuing to see Thanksgiving related cases come in, and I am still concerned about case rate increases going into next week.”

Quarantines have decreased so far this week, with 345 individuals currently being monitored for symptoms (compared to 398 Monday and 353 last Wednesday).

As previously reported, the CDC released revised guidance on quarantines Wednesday. More on that announcement can be found at: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/Headlines/Article/CDC-issues-guidance-on-potential-options-to-reduce-COVID-19-quarantine-periods-/2/73/61988.

“CDC is working on new quarantine guidelines that will likely reduce the quarantine timeframe to 10 days, or seven days with a negative rapid antigen test or PCR test,” Warner said. “This change is not in place yet and may also need to be adopted by the Ohio Department of Health before we can start implementing this change locally.

“I think this is a very smart change and something we have talked about internally at our health department for a while. The most recent study that I read (I think as far back as September) showed that about 95 percent of cases that will be symptomatic will show symptoms within seven days. Going to 10 days increases this to about 97.5 percent. One of our hopes is that reducing the quarantine time will help encourage people to cooperate with contact tracing efforts and allow us to better control our rate of disease in the county. It is easier for people to accept and participate a seven- or 10-day quarantine than a 14-day quarantine. It will also help our local businesses keep staff in place and keep operations continuing.”

Warner added that this is more evidence of policies being adjusted as knowledge of the virus continues to evolve.

“As a reminder, this is how the scientific process works,” the health commissioner said. “As new and better information becomes available, we shift our policies to adjust. We get smarter over time and learn how to improve policies and processes. This is a good thing.”

In other discussion, Warner said the department is planning for vaccine storage and distribution once vaccines become available.

“Vaccines are getting closer to being approved, and we are starting to plan and practice for the logistical hurdles that will come with an ultracold vaccine,” he said. “Final prioritization plans are also in the works and are currently focused on getting early vaccine doses to those with direct hands-on contact with sick people.”

Warner also addressed a comment that flu cases are “being called COVID-19 in order to inflate the pandemic numbers.”

“Influenza tracking is still in place and will happen the same this year as it has traditionally been done,” he said. “We currently have very little influenza activity occurring in Ohio.”