Uptown Athens is covered with Mask Up signs. It is now required that people wear a mask while in public. Failure to do so will result in a misdemeanor charge.

Athens County saw its first major surge of COVID-19 cases in July, owing in part to 4th of July festivities, however the steep increase began in the first week of July, when 27 new cases were reported.

At the time, Athens City-County Health Department Health Commissioner and Medical Director Dr. James Gaskell predicted an impending spike due to an increased number of gatherings centered around the summer holiday.

“This (social gatherings) particularly happened over the 4th of July weekend. We’re going to see more disease over the next week or two because of that,” Gaskell said.

Gaskell attributed the number of social gatherings to a false sense of security created by Gov. Mike DeWine reopening the state, stating that just because the bars and restaurants are reopened doesn’t mean the virus has gone away.

At the time the largest demographic for new COVID-19 cases in Athens County were people aged 20-29, or what Gaskell referred to as the “risk-takers” of society.

“The older people by and large are staying at home, of course, they are at risk. When you’re young you can outrun the disease because you are young and strong,” Gaskell said.

In the second week of July, Athens County broke 100 cases. In response, the Athens City Council passed a city-wide mask ordinance.

“I truly believe this is the best thing that we can do for our community,” Mayor Steve Patterson said at the time.

The following week Athens County was elevated to red “Level 3” on the Ohio Public Health Emergency Advisory System. The state-wide system that measures the severity of the virus in each county.

By the end of July, Athens County was downgraded to orange “Level 2” on the Alert System after sitting at red level for two weeks.

In total, COVID-19 cases increased 475% in the month of July, having begun the month with 60 cases and ended with 345 cases.

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