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Five new counties reach highest alert level

Lawrence, Scioto, Jackson remain at Red Level Three

COLUMBUS — Five new counties reached the highest alert level on the state’s COVID-19 system in the newest map, released on Thursday.

Gov. Mike DeWine said that Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark and Summit counties were now at Purple Level Four on the four-tier system, joining Lake, Lorain and Montgomery counties.

Three counties at Red Level Three, Cuyahoga, Fairfield and Madison — were designated to the watch list for conditions that could lead to a Level Four designation.

The system, compiled by the Ohio Department of Health, is determined by seven data indicators — New cases per capita, sustained increase in new cases, proportion of cases not congregate cases, sustained increase in emergency room visits, sustained increase in outpatient visits and sustained increase in new COVID-19 hospital admissions — that identify the risk level for each county and a corresponding color code to represent that risk level.

One county that was listed at Level Four last week, Franklin, which covers the Columbus area, had been downgraded back to Red Level Three.

“Franklin County has gone from purple to red, but this does not mean that Franklin County is out of the woods,” Dr. Andy Thomas, of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said

“We still have a rate of cases that is 6x higher than the definition of high incidence. That is not good. We are not on our way down yet.”

Thomas said the state has yet to see the impact of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings on hospital numbers.

“Usually, people are admitted a week after they’re diagnosed,” he said. “This is not the beginning of the end. This is not even the end of the beginning.”

He said Ohio is now heading into what will be the three most challenging months of the pandemic.

“ICU beds are the area of capacity where we have the biggest strain across the state – especially in rural areas,” Thomas said.

Locally, Lawrence County remained at Red Level Three, marking its ninth week at the designation. Neighboring Scioto and Jackson counties were also at Level Three, while Gallia County was listed at Orange Level Two.