ASHLAND -- Ashland County has returned to “orange” or level two, after spending weeks with a “red,” or level three, rating in the state's color-coded Public Health Advisory System.

Ashland County turned "red" on Sept. 24 for the first time since the state launched the system in July and remained level three each week until the Ohio Department of Health updated its website today.

"In some ways, we believe the sudden increase was related to the return to school. Now, that factor has begun to level out, and we are seeing a stabilization of our new case numbers," Ashland County Health Department Commissioner Heather Reffett said. "Still, I encourage our residents to be prepared as we head into the cold season."

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She asks residents to get a flu shot this year and seek out "enjoyable, small group indoor activities" as the weather soon may restrict outdoor activities for some.

"Equally important is identifying relatives and friends who may be isolated and could use companionship and increased contact to ward off depression and prevent neglect," Reffett said.

Currently, Ashland County has 74 active cases of COVID-19. It has had a total of 368 COVID-19 cases. Of the active cases, six individuals are experiencing severe symptoms, three have moderate symptoms and all others are either a symptomatic or have mild symptoms. There have been seven deaths, and there are seven Ashland County residents in the hospital with COVID.

Reffett suggests taking efforts this season to prevent both COVID-19 and the flu. She mentioned wearing facial coverings, social distancing and frequent washing of hands.

"Most importantly, please do stay home if you are sick," she said.

Though Ashland County improved, the spread of coronavirus is growing around the state, according to Gov. Mike DeWine. During his press conference, he said the state is seeing a record number of level three counties.

"As of today, Ohio has 29 red counties. That is 65 percent of Ohioans who are living in red counties," DeWine said, pointing out 2,178 new positive tests reported in the last 24 hours, a new record since the pandemic reached the state in March. The 21-day average is 1,338.

DeWine said the state reported five additional COVID-19 deaths since Wednesday, below the 21-day average of 15. He said there were 108 new hospitalizations, above the 21-day average of 84, and 43 ICU admissions, above the 21-day average of 13.

The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests continues to climb, DeWine said. It was at 5.4 percent on Oct. 13, climbing from 2.5 percent on Sept. 20.

"We have 13 new red counties today. Our local health department officials have told us this week that our schools are doing a good job. But what they are seeing is spread from social gatherings," the governor said.

"Our health commissioners tell us they are seeing less and less mask compliance when people are out and that people aren’t wearing masks when they are with friends and family," DeWine said.

"These are not times to be complacent or comfortable. It is the time to be vigilant to protect yourself, your family, your friends and your neighbors," DeWine said.

"There is a red tide spreading across the state of Ohio. These numbers are horrible and they are going the wrong way," he said.

DeWine said Ohio this week had 52 counties that are considered "high incidence," meaning those counties had seen more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents during the past two weeks.

The system uses seven indicators to monitor the spread of COVID-19 in counties across Ohio. If a county meets 0-1 of the seven indicators, it's ranked "yellow," or level one. That rating becomes "orange," or level two, if it meets 2-3 indicators. The ranking moves to "red" if 4-5 indicators are triggered and becomes "purple," or level four, if 6-7 indicators are met.

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Ashland County met two of the seven indicators: New cases per capita and non-congregate cases.  

New cases per capita -- A county meets this indicator if it has more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks. Ashland County reported 53 new positive tests in the last two weeks. With a population of 53,484, that is 99.10 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Non-congregate cases -- A county is flagged here if the proportion of cases that are not in a congregate setting goes over 50 percent in at least one of the last three weeks. Ashland County has reported 100 percent of its cases in non-congregate settings for the last several weeks, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard.

Other indicators include sustained increase in new cases, sustained increase in outpatient visits for COVID-like illness, sustained increase in emergency department visits for COVID-like illness, sustained increase in hospital admissions for COVID-like illness and lack of ICU bed occupancy.