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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

COVID-19 Cases Decreasing In Summit But Rising In Portage Counties

Updated: 5:35 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020

Summit County has dropped from coronavirus alert Level 3, or red, down two levels to Level 1, or yellow,  Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday during his regular virus briefing.

But more counties are moving up from Level 1 to Level 2, and in the case of Portage County, the increase in COVID-19 cases has taken the county up from Level 2 to Level 3.

About 70 percent of Ohioans are living in  an orange-rated county according to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, the governor said.

Five counties are in the red, including Portage, which is home to the main campus of Kent State University. The majority of cases there are driven by activities in off-campus and Greek housing, DeWine said, and have increased from an average of 5.5 cases per 100,000 people in August to 11 cases per 100,000 as of Sept. 4. Portage County has also seen average daily outpatient visits increase from an average of six on Sept. 10 to nine on Sept. 15, according to Ohio Department of Health reporting.

“The majority of cases are being driven by activities in off-campus housing and to a lesser degree, Greek housing,” DeWine said. “So far in September, 51 percent of Portage County's cases are in people who are younger than 29.”

But overall, Thursday’s reporting data for Ohio’s new COVID-19 cases, deaths, ICU admissions and hospitalizations were generally flat, the governor said.

The governor initially misspoke, and sent out an errant tweet, stating that Summit County had dropped one alert level, but later clarified that the county is in fact at yellow or Level 1, meeting only one of the seven pandemic warning indicators.  

Daily New Confirmed & Probable COVID-19 Cases In Ohio

Kent State officials immediately released details of the school’s plans for operating and adhering to state guidelines under Portage County’s increased alert status. As of Sept. 18, all Kent Campus dining locations will serve takeout only. Visitors to residence halls will be limited to those Kent State students living on the Kent Campus.

“The increase of positive cases related to Kent State and the city of Kent can be attributed largely to off-campus gatherings. It is imperative that everyone follow the Flashes Safe Seven on and off campus, wear a face covering at all times, avoid large gatherings and limit in-person contact with others,” the press release emphasized.

The governor also released the first round of coronavirus data from Ohio’s K-12 schools Thursday, including introducing two new statewide dashboards for checking on cases among students and staff at public and private schools.

The database is searchable by district and school name, but does not aggregate information, such as a total number of cases in schools statewide. The reports come from local health departments, following a state order mandating schools report cases to the departments, which are required to report weekly to the state.

“Just because there’s a student who’s associated with a school who has tested positive is no reflection on the teachers, the principal, the superintended or anybody else,” DeWine emphasized Thursday. “A school can be doing absolutely everything right. The school’s going to reflect what is going on the community. The fact that they have figured it out, the parents have, the school has, that the student has COVID and they’ve taken the appropriate action and are working with the health department is a positive thing. And so we should look at that is a positive thing… This is just one more effort to share information on what’s going on with regard to COVID.”

DeWine emphasized that sports activities themselves are not causing the spread.

“In Cuyahoga County, eight high school volleyball players tested positive for COVID,” he said. “A few of the players attended a large graduation party a couple of weeks before they started feeling sick.”

DeWine said his office will release initial guidance on Halloween Friday, but how to handle the usually high-contact holiday is mostly a community decision. He cautioned, however, that hayrides and haunted houses are more problematic due to the number of people involved, the close proximity of guests and whether or not patrons are wearing masks.

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