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Drop in COVID-19 case rate allows Lucas County to move out of 'red' designation

Move to yellow removes CDC recommendation for people to mask while indoors.

TOLEDO, Ohio — After spending the past two weeks as a "red" county, Lucas County was dropped down to "yellow" on Thursday afternoon by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC uses a color-tiered system to characterize COVID-19 transmission rates in counties. Green is low spread, yellow is medium, and red is the highest level. Three different metrics are used to classify counties: case rate during the past seven days, new hospital admissions during that time period, and percentage of inpatient beds with COVID-19 patients.

A red designation comes with a recommendation from the CDC that people mask while indoors. Employees in several Lucas County workplaces were forced to return to masks when the county was elevated to red last month. The CDC recommends those with underlying conditions still mask in yellow counties. 

Locally, Lucas, Wood, Ottawa, and Fulton counties are the only areas in yellow. The remaining northwest Ohio counties are green. Ohio has 18 yellow counties, while only Lawrence and Gallia in southern Ohio are red.

The key metric in determining color designation is cases per 100,000 population during the past seven days. Once a county hits 200 cases per 100,000, the CDC lowers the hospitalization threshold needed to trigger a yellow or red. For example, last week Lucas County had a case rate of 208 and a new admissions number of 13.6. According to the CDC guidelines, a county above 200 and 10 is elevated to red. By comparison, Wood County had the same hospital number, but its case rate was 190. Since its rate was less than 200, it would have needed a hospital rate of 20 to trigger the red designation, so it was a yellow county.

However, over the past week, Lucas County saw its cases drop by about 30 percent, bringing the case rate down to 140 per 100,000. With hospitalizations being relatively stable, the CDC reclassified the county as yellow.

While the CDC considers case rate during a seven-day period, Ohio looks at the past 14 days. As a state, Ohio saw its case rate drop to 268 this week. Locally, Lucas County dropped to 240, while Wood County fell to 248 from 307 but has the highest rate in the region. Paulding County has the lowest number at 155.

By comparison to the same date last year, Ohio is seeing far more cases. On June 10, 2021, the state had a case rate of 37 per 100,000 and there were 470 COVID patients, compared to 749 now. 

But last June saw the arrival of the Delta variant in the region. That COVID-19 variant was much more dangerous than Omicron, which is now 100 percent of our cases. Delta was much more likely to move into the lungs, sometimes leading to pneumonia. Omicron typically settles in the nasal passages and throat. The difference between variants is evident in the number of seriously ill patients. Even though there were far fewer patients last year at this time, there were more people in the intensive-care unit and on ventilators. In fact, there were more than twice as many people on ventilators (108 vs. 52) last June.

And there is no solid evidence that Omicron is causing many serious illnesses. During a press briefing a month ago, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Ohio's medical director, said many of the people in the hospital number are hospitalized with COVID-19 and were admitted because of other conditions. For example, if you test positive after being admitted for leg surgery, you would be included in the 749 number.

For more than a year, the state responded to my requests for information by saying that those in the hospital number were hospitalized because of COVID-19. State officials are no longer making that statement.

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