ASHLAND -- Ashland County was not "red" on Thursday in the Ohio Public Health Advisory System -- for the first time in sixth months.
The county reported 51 new cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks, its lowest such total since Oct. 22, when a statewide surge began that sent almost all 88 counties into Level 3 of the statewide virus monitoring system.
The 51 cases represent 95.36 cases per 100,000 residents in a county with 53,484 residents, improving the county to "orange," or level two, in the four-color, coded system.
Ashland Mayor Matt Miller said Friday afternoon said he was pleased to see the trends heading in the right direction.
"I think the people here in Ashland County have taken to heart the guidance from the CDC, the state and local health officials and have been respectful to one another while they have done what they can to keep one another safe," Miller said.
Miller also said the vaccines have made a difference.
"All of these factors have played an important role," he said.
"It's clear folks here are ready to put this (pandemic) behind them. They are getting out and about more. Event calendars are filling up. We are hopeful this will be a spring and summer of freedom," Miller said.
The improvement in cases comes at the same time as the number of hospitalizations decline in the region that includes Ashland County.
According to the Ohio Hospital Association, there were 204 residents in the multi-county region hospitalized Thursday due to the virus. That's a decline of 7 percent in the last seven days, 6 percent in the last 21 days and 10 percent in the last 60 days.
In the region, hospitalizations peaked at 1,059 on Dec. 15.
Also this week, the Ohio Dept. of Health reported the percentage of positive tests in the county was 2.2 percent, about 1.4 percent below the state average. It marked the first time individual county testing percentages had been reported since the pandemic reached Ohio in March 2020.
The county went "red" on Nov. 5 when it reported 109 new cases in a two-week period (203.80 per 100k) and also triggered four of the seven indicators utilized in the county-by-county measuring system.
Once it hit that level, under the OPHAS guidelines, Ashland County would remain at Level 3 until the number of cases per 100,000 residents dipped below 100.
The surge that began in November raced through Ashland County, hitting a high of 884.38 new cases per 100,000 residents on Dec. 17 when 473 new cases of the virus were reported in a two-week period.
The county then reported more than 400 new cases in a two-week period for six consecutive reporting periods, before a gradual improvement began in late January.
The county fell below 300 new cases in a two-week period on Jan. 28, below 200 on Feb. 4 and below 100 on Feb. 18. It has remained below 100 new cases since then, save for a blip on March 18 when 104 were reported.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and state medical officials have said vaccinations are the key to ending the pandemic.
Ashland County lags behind state averages for vaccination participation among residents.
Statewide, as of Thursday, 40 percent of the state's population had received at least one dose and 32 percent were fully vaccinated. In Ashland County, 28 percent of residents (15,104) have had one dose and 20 percent (10,894) are fully vaccinated.
According to the ODH, Ashland County has reported 4,186 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, affecting almost 8 percent of the county's population. ODH said 279 county residents have been hospitalized and 89 deaths have been reported, with 3,974 presumed recoveries.