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Health officials encourage mask use around family as cases rise in rural counties

Henry County health officials say most of their coronavirus cases have shifted from congregate settings like nursing homes to community spread at mass gatherings.

NAPOLEON, Ohio — As Lucas County finds itself back in the Level 3 (Red) category of the state's coronavirus alert system, rural counties in northwest Ohio are also seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Henry County health officials made clear that the guidelines for stopping the spread of the coronavirus have not really changed. They still include washing your hands, staying six feet apart and, of course, wearing a mask. However, what might need to change is where you put on a mask and it might hit closer to home.

Henry County was one of the last counties to get its first confirmed coronavirus case earlier this year. But, what started in congregate settings like nursing homes, is now switching to community spread.

"It's actually out in the community: mass gatherings among people, weddings, unfortunately funerals, family gatherings," Interim Henry County Health Commissioner Joy Ermie said. 

Napoleon city officials said that overall, people have adjusted well to the guidelines to keep each other safe.

"I think the community has been really receptive to wearing masks and have gotten used to it," city manager Joel Mazur said.

"Everyone is doing a nice job of looking out for each other, wearing their mask when needed. I know small businesses have had to adapt to how they do business and it's affected them quite a bit," Napoleon city council member Ross Durham said.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said that COVID-19 may change how people celebrate holidays, and families should start using the guidelines like wearing a mask even around family and at family gatherings.

"Even if it is with our family and friends and close relatives, it's really important to stop the spread," Mazur added. "If we want to get out of this, people have to listen to that guidance."

Ermie reiterated that people should reconsider travel plans, especially to states that are seeing a higher positivity rate for coronavirus cases.

"The virus is out there and it's circulating and it doesn't know county lines," she said. "So when you see orange or red across northwest Ohio, that's all of our homes."

One thing is certain, the holidays will look different this year.