ASHLAND — Ashland County saw 135 cases of COVID-19 in July. With just a few days left in August, those numbers have more than doubled.
So far, the county has seen 383 cases, 36 hospitalizations, four deaths and 57 were presumed to be recovered.
Health professionals blame the highly contagious delta variant mixed with vaccine hesitancy and a general aversion to mask wearing for the increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation on July 27, saying fully-vaccinated people are to wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. That advice was in addition to a prior recommendation that unvaccinated people continue wearing masks in those areas.
Ashland County currently falls under the high COVID-19 transmission category, according to CDC data collected Aug. 19 to 25. A high transmission category means the total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days is 100 or more.
Despite the recommendation, most people in Ashland County are not wearing masks, said Vickie Taylor, Ashland County Health Department Commissioner.
"Although masks are highly suggested, there is no 'requirement' or order mandating masks. I do not think most people are wearing masks if the location does not require it," she said.
Employees at the health department are wearing masks, she said.
All but one of Ohio's 88 counties (Ashtabula) are currently listed as "high-transmission" areas by the CDC – up from 48 out of 88 counties two weeks ago.
Statewide numbers continue to rise, with 5,395 new cases reported Thursday, the highest since Jan. 28, when 5,432 cases were added to the state's total.
The vaccination rate for Ohio sits at 46.7%, which represents the number of people who have been fully inoculated. The county’s vaccination rate sits at 33.2%.
Taylor said the health department has noted a slight uptick in vaccines, "it is not proportionate to the number of positive cases."
"The health department encourages everyone to put in multiple layers of protection, which includes: vaccines, masking, hand washing, social distancing and proper cleaning. Most of all, we encourage everyone 12 and up to get a vaccine," she said.
Recent case numbers in Ashland don’t come close to those experienced over the winter months, particularly in December, when the county experienced 1,283 cases, 33 deaths and 47 hospitalizations.
Hospitals are bracing for the surge.
OhioHealth said earlier this week it would temporarily halt elective procedures that require an overnight stay because of the rising number of hospitalizations, which is testing area hospitals’ ICUs.
Several area hospitals' intensive care units were at or near full capacity as of the week of Aug. 13, the most recent date for which capacity data was available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
With eight ICU beds, UH Samaritan Medical Center in Ashland had a 100% capacity. OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital has 23 ICU beds — they were also full during the same week.
The only hospitals with ICU beds available were Avita Ontario with six out of seven beds occupied and Galion Community Hospital had four out six ICU beds occupied.
Statewide, 75.4% of ICU beds are in use and 16% of them are being used for COVID-19 patients, according to HHS data.
Taylor said the health department's priority has been getting people to get the vaccine. She said it will host a vaccine clinic on Sept. 1 and Sept. 29 at Ashland University and additional plans are in the works.