By kaitlin thorne

Athens County now has the third highest occurrence of COVID-19 in the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), reporting 192.9 cases per 100,000 people from Sept. 2-15.

Athens County remains at Level 2 on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, meaning there is increased exposure and spread. The state system rates the state of the pandemic in each county, giving them a rating of Levels 1-4, with Level 4 being the most severe. Currently no counties are rated Level 4.

Athens County does not currently meet enough indicators to trigger a Red Level 3 rating, however Athens’ high occurrence rate does meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of high incidence. Meaning that rapid virus transmission could occur if steps are not taken to slow the spread.

As of Friday at 2 p.m., Athens County is reporting 110 known active cases and 469 recovered cases, for a total of 581 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19. There have been two in-county deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Statewide, there are now 142,546 total COVID-19 cases in Ohio and 4,608 deaths.

In Athens County, the largest and fastest growing demographic for COVID-19 remains people aged 20-29, with 402 cases in this age range. This greatly outweighs the second largest which is age 0-19, with 55 cases. The totals for other age ranges are: 37 aged 30-39, 24 aged 40-49, 25 aged 50-59, 25 aged 60-69, 8 aged 70-79, and five cases aged 80+.

Many have speculated that the reason for the outweighed numbers are the college students, many of whom returned to Athens within the last month and a half. This is an argument that Gov. Mike DeWine seems to agree with, having said during Thursday’s press conference that the spread could be due to “off-campus activities” that students from Ohio University often partake in.

OU, looking to help mitigate the spread among students and faculty released a COVID-19 Dashboard on Thursday.

Currently the Dashboard reports that 282 Athens students have been tested, with 110 positive results, 142 negative results and 34 pending results. 24 employees have been tested, with one positive, 20 negative, and three pending results.

OU is reporting that there are currently 72 students quarantined off-campus due to exposure, 62 in total isolation due to a positive test result or symptomatic, and 42 in isolation due to positive result.

The OU COVID-19 Dashboard may not reflect the true story of COVID-19 at the university. The Dashboard relies on voluntary reporting, requesting that any student or faculty report when they have tested positive, been exposed, or are symptomatic.

OU and other institutions reporting cases must rely on voluntary reporting, as COVID-19 test results are protected under medical privacy laws.

Students and faculty who need to report a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure, can do so by filling out a COVID-19 Incident Report, which can be found on the school’s website,

OU is currently in phase one of it’s return to campus plan, with phase two set to begin on Sept. 28, when 7,000 additional students will be able to return to campus. This number though may not be entirely representative of the number of students returning to the area, as many students are already here, having secured housing in the area last year.

Students included in phase two will have the option to continue with a fully-online course schedule, though some classes may require in-person attendance.

Student who will be returning to Athens will be asked to quarantine for 14 days at their permanent residence before arriving in Athens.

“As we continue to responsibly increase density on campus, the University is working to implement a new testing strategy that will allow us to screen students who are not exhibiting any symptoms,” President Duane Nellis wrote in a letter earlier this month. “I hope to share additional details about this in the coming weeks. Students will be expected to participate in asymptomatic testing when invited to participate in surveillance or exposure-based testing.”

The local school districts are also trying to navigate the uncharted waters of a pandemic school year. Nelsonville-York City Schools announced on Thursday that the district will one again delay four-day-a-week in-person education by a week. The transition was originally slated to begin on Sept. 15, and was delayed on Monday, Sept. 14.

The catalyst for the first delay came after an announcement by the school of a student or staff member who received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

The district will remain under the cohort model for the next week.

Students are broken up into two cohorts. Cohort A will receive in-person education on Tuesday and Wednesday and remote education on Thursday and Friday. Cohort B will be remote on Tuesday and Wednesday and in-person on Thursday and Friday. All students will learn remotely on Mondays.

The Alexander Local Schools Board of Education voted nearly unanimously on Wednesday to return students to school five-days-a-week for the second nine-weeks of the 2020-2021 school year.

Board member Lucy Juedes was the sole “no” vote, stating that she was in favor of returning to school four days a week instead of five.

Alexander began the school year with online-only education on Aug. 31. They will return to in-person education in the second nine-weeks, with students having the option to remain at home for distance-learning.

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