Following Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s revised mask order announcement this week, the Highland County Health Department’s Friday, Nov. 13 COVID-19 update included a discussion of mask science and updates on contact tracing changes.

The governor held an evening press conference Wednesday, Nov. 11 where he announced the new mask regulations. There has not been a health department update since Monday, as Nov. 11 was a holiday. Since Monday’s update, Highland County has surpassed the 800 cumulative case mark and the 600 recoveries mark.

The governor’s mask order was signed Friday and can be read at: http://highlandcountypress. com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Health-order-enforcing-mask-wearing-in-retail-locations-signed/2/20/61552. In response, Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner posted resources for scientific background on mask-wearing. He recommended an article that he said provides “a review of over 100 studies related to mask use.” The article can be viewed at: https://www.thespectrum.com/story/news/2020/11/12/byu-research-supports-effectiveness-mask-wearing-against-covid-19/6264646002/.

Warner wrote the following synopsis on the study and on the reasons behind wearing a mask:

“1. There was a lot of confusion about masks as source control early on. Even government agencies contradicted themselves. This was confusing for everyone. Science gets better over time, and we need to learn and adjust as new and better information becomes available.

2. There is now convincing evidence from scientifically controlled studies that show masks are effective as source control in preventing COVID-19 spread. Much of this evidence is from new studies that were completed in recent months and is specific to COVID-19.

3. Cloth masks stop respiratory droplets from spreading as easily as without a mask.

4. Masks are safe for nearly everyone, except for those with respiratory problems and some other conditions. There are no significant or common dangers to wearing one.

I share all of this in hopes that some of the continuing narrative around mask use will change. Masks are not a political issue, they are not a sign of submission, they are not an assault on personal liberty. They are a temporary measure aimed at reducing disease transmission. That really is it, no other secret agenda. We simply want to slow down disease rates until we have better tools available to keep people healthy. Vaccines are on the way, and the end of masks shouldn’t be far behind.

There is a lot misinformation out there, and some very confident people talking about topics that they don’t understand well. Masks are not a silver bullet, and when people say things like, ‘If masks worked, then why do we still have new COVID-19 cases,’ they have a very poor grasp of disease prevention. Masks have shown to be effective in reducing disease reproductive rates in communities, and we have ample scientific evidence to back this claim up. There was never an expectation that masks will eliminate all COVID-19 cases.

I encourage you to check sources, ask questions and be skeptical. We should be looking to reputable, educated and reliable sources for our information. It is easy to have an opinion, but it takes a lot of effort to have a well-informed one.”

In addition to updating current COVID-19 numbers, Warner gave a final update, with charts, on the free pop-up testing event held Oct. 30 at the Highland County Fairgrounds. There were 16 positive tests out of the 163 people tested, and of that 16, 14 individuals lived in Highland County, according to the health commissioner.

“Thanks to Brittane Dance and Dave Bushelman for heading up this project,” Warner said.

As of Friday, Nov. 11, there are 120 currently sick patients, down 75 compared to Monday and down 67 compared to one week ago.

“Case counts are down slightly from our high last week,” Warner said. “We are really struggling to keep up with quarantines and quarantine letters for everyone. Newly diagnosed cases in Highland County should expect a delay in hearing from the health department. If you are sick, stay home. If you know that you are a close contact, quarantine yourself. ”

Total combined cases reached 817 as of Friday, an increase of 48 from Monday and up 85 in the past seven days.

Recoveries saw the largest spike, with 679 of the county’s COVID-19 patients being marked as recovered. This is an increase of 123 since Monday and an increase of 152 since last Friday.

There are currently 474 individuals in quarantine. The number of people being monitored for symptoms has increased by 47 since Monday, although it’s a decrease of 30 compared to last Friday.

In speaking of quarantines and contact tracing, Warner said that the department is implementing some changes in their contact tracing protocol. According to the health commissioner, this new method for contact tracing will help their office focus on cases with the highest “community risk perspective,” particularly congregate settings like “nursing homes, our local jail, in schools, manufacturing centers and in other congregate areas can lead to large problems if they aren’t addressed quickly.”

“Starting today, we began using an automated case investigation survey to ask newly diagnosed COVID-19 positive patients for information,” Warner said. “This survey tool allows our nurses to work with all of our active cases, but to focus their limited in-person phone time on cases with higher risk factors.

“We are still working out the bugs, but don’t be surprised if we ask you to answer some questions online instead of over the phone if you are diagnosed with COVID-19. If phone surveys aren’t something you feel comfortable doing, just let us know and we will call you when we are able.”

Warner added that he also implemented a new policy in response to those who disrespect the health department staff.

“If you call our team and cuss at them, yell at them, tell them they need to ‘do their jobs’ or are otherwise belligerent, I have fully authorized (and encouraged) my team to hang up on you,” he said. “You will then go to the end of the line for phone calls and quarantine letters, and we are going to move on to talk to the next person. Hopefully that next person on our list will be kinder to this wonderful and hardworking team.”

The number of total hospitalizations has risen to 52 (compared to 50 Monday and 49 last Friday), while there are seven patients currently hospitalized (compared to six Monday and seven last Friday).

“Hospitalizations continue to increase with no indication that things are peaking,” Warner said. “I don’t say this to frighten people, but it is concerning. I am actually afraid we will run out of healthy healthcare workers before we run out of beds.

“Some people try to point to increased testing as the reason for increased positive cases and claim that this whole thing is artificially created. I think that the situation in our urban hospitals clearly demonstrates that we are seeing a large increase in hospitalizations, which clearly indicates an increase in sick people. This is not the result of more testing, or the result of more false positives from antigen tests, or a combined testing of COVID/flu/strep. These are real people with COVID-19 that are going to the hospital. ”

There have been 18 COVID-19-related deaths reported in Highland County since the start of the pandemic.

In other discussion, Warner also expressed thanks to Highland County Community Action, whose employees assisted at the Health Department office.

“We were very fortunate to have support today from six staff people from Highland County Community Action Organization,” Warner said. “I can’t tell you how thankful we are for this help. When I can call at 6 p.m. the night before and have workers show the next morning, that is a special partnership.

“Huge thanks to Julie Wise and her crew at HCCAO and to our Director of Nursing Bonnie Rusch for organizing everyone today.”