Franklin County became the first county in the state to reach the most severe rating, level 4, or purple, on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System on Thursday.

Level 4 indicates severe exposure and spread. The Ohio Department of Health urges residents in level 3 counties to stay home and only go out for supplies or services. 

More counties were upgraded to level 3, red, on the system as well, marking the sixth week in a row that the number of level 3 counties have increased. Athens County was a level 3 county in July and currently is rated as level 2, or orange, indicating increased exposure and spread.

As the COVID-19 situation worsens in the state, Athens County school districts are grappling with best practices to ensure the safety of students and faculty.

The school districts started the 2020-2021 school year under different types of distance-learning models, and for the week of Thanksgiving at least, a few will return to online education once more. Both Federal Hocking and Trimble have announced that students will be participating in remote learning on Nov. 23 and 24, prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Federal Hocking and Trimble will both continue online-only education for the week of Nov. 30-Dec. 4. The districts will then return to its two cohort plan until Dec. 18. The district's winter break will run from Dec. 21-Jan. 18.

Beacon School announced on Wednesday that it will be switching to online-only education, effective Nov. 24-Jan. 4. There will be no in-person services, however, the school states that meals will be delivered on school session days.

"This pause is directly related to the rapid increase of COVID-19 in the community and the health and welfare of our students/staff," the announcement read.

As of 2 p.m. Friday, the Athens City-County Health Department had not yet been able to provide an update on the incidences of COVID-19 within the county. The state's COVID-19 dashboard has been behind with reporting numbers, citing thousands of reports pending review.

Even so, the state reported record numbers of new cases — 8,808 in a 24 hour period.

"The state is experiencing difficulties with their dashboard again," the Athens City-County Health Department said in Friday's release. "They were able to update state numbers, but were unable to update the local numbers. As soon as we receive them, we will send them out."

However, the Athens City-County Health Department reported 1,706 cases in the county as of Thursday, Nov. 19. That was an increase of 20 cases in 24 hours, with 318 active cases and 1,384 presumed recovered cases in the county. There are still only four deaths in the county attributed in part to COVID-19.

Across Ohio, there are 335,423 total COVID-19 cases as of Friday, Nov. 20, and 5,955 deaths as of Friday evening.

According to the the state's travel advisory, none of the states surrounding Ohio have an incidence of COVID-19 over 15 percent — the threshold deemed necessary for quarantining after travel.

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