Summit County public health officials prepare for new COVID variants, future without mandates as cases decline
Although Summit County’s COVID-19 cases continue to decline, local health officials are urging the community to be careful.
The county’s positivity rate was 3.49% on Wednesday, March 16, falling well below the 5% positivity rate that would warrant “concern” for health officials. The number hasn’t risen above 5% since March 6, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The numbers are promising, but that doesn’t mean people should forget that the world is still in a pandemic, Public Health Director Amy Wineland said at a Board of Health meeting Tuesday, March 15.
“We still do need to use all of our tools in our toolbox, including staying home when sick, getting tested, making sure that you are wearing a mask and paying attention to our community levels,” she said.
Wineland added that people who are at higher risk for severe illness due to the virus need to remain extra vigilant and that everyone should continue to get vaccinated.
The public health department is keeping a close eye on new variants of the virus that have appeared around the world. The county has had one case of the omicron sub-variant, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates accounts for nearly a quarter of COVID-19 cases across the country.
Wineland said the department is also adopting new metrics from the CDC that will help guide its response if cases start to rise again. The CDC now uses the number of cases per 100,000 people and the number of hospitalizations to measure risk in communities.
In the past seven days, Summit has reported fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 people, fewer than 10 new COVID-19 hospital admissions and less than 10% of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, placing it in the “low” risk level.
The county could potentially move into the medium or high risk levels if numbers surpassed any of those thresholds. In that case, the county may recommend that people wear masks indoors, but it’s unlikely the county will ever require masks again.
“We’re not looking to go back to orders,” Wineland said. “We really want the community to … use the tools in their toolbox to prevent the spread.”
Wineland also recommended that everyone in the county get their booster shots if they’re eligible and have not already done so. About 45% of the county’s residents have gotten a booster, which falls below state and national averages, Wineland said.
Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said it has been difficult to follow the guidance for people who have already received their booster.
“I read a lot about COVID because that’s what we have to do here, and I can’t figure out what’s next in terms of the kids’ boosters, what’s next for the 0 to 5-year-olds, and what’s next for me,” Pogue said.
Researchers are still reviewing data to see when it is safest to get another booster shot, Wineland said. The public health director expects there to be more information about another round of boosters in the fall.
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