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‘A crisis moment’

COVID-19 cases surge over 600 in Hamilton County

—Daily Freeman-Journal file photo
With positive cases of COVID-19 surging across Hamilton County, public health officials are urging area residents to continue to wear a mask when in public and to observe social distancing practices.

“We’re in a crisis moment in Hamilton County. We’re in a crisis moment at the health department. We need everyone to help us.”

Those attending or listening to the live-streamed Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning heard a noticeably frustrated Shelby Kroona, public health administrator, describing the current COVID-19 conditions in Hamilton County.

The total number of COVID-19 cases has now climbed above 600 in Hamilton County. In the past three days, Kroona said there have been 30 new cases each day.

“Two weeks ago was Halloween and we were at 499 positive cases. Today we have 627,” Kroona told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning. There are currently more than 90 active cases in the county.

“Our positivity rate jumped from 12.6 percent yesterday to 16.9 percent today,” she said. In looking more closely at the rates across the county, Kroona said one zip code was approaching 30 percent positivity.

She explained that her department also looks at the number of days it takes for the positive cases to double. A month ago, Hamilton County was at 124 days to double the rate of positivity. Today that figure stands at 52 days.

“In 52 days we will have over 1,200 positive cases in Hamilton County if we don’t do something to slow the curve,” she said, adding that there is still time to slow the curve, but stressed it would take the efforts of everyone in the county.

Wearing masks and social distancing are still important, but Kroona the practice of wearing masks has become a politically charged issue.

“I can’t believe the number of emails and pictures I receive on a daily basis showing large crowds where there is no mask wearing going on,” she said. “We need to remember, when we wear masks, I’m protecting you from me. I may not know that I am ill and I don’t want to spread it or have you take it home to your loved ones.”

Kroona said it takes everyone wearing masks to make an impact. She pointed to the example of schools where children are wearing masks on a daily basis.

“Children are able to stay in school because everyone is wearing a mask and we’re not seeing as much spread,” she said.

“We know there are many events coming up in the next few months were people will want to gather. The CDC recommends not gathering with people who live outside your household. Thanksgiving may have to look different this year unless we want to see our numbers exponentially grow,” she said.

Kroona said her staff is working long hours and are exhausted. With surging numbers, the health department staff has been busy working on contact tracing. She’s had to divert additional staff to help with contract tracing.

“This means our other business may be impacted by what we can get done. Do we stop flu vaccine clinics? Do we stop immunizing children? These are things that all need to happen but because of the spread and increased number of cases we are having to prioritize what we can get done,” she said.

Testing is another strong mitigation tool, especially with a wide community spread like the county is experiencing now. The minute somebody has symptoms or knows they have been exposed, they need to test, she said.

There should be no stigma or guilt related to testing or contact tracing, but Kroona said she’s seen instances of bullying related to testing and tracing.

“The bullying that is going on – you’re going to ruin the football teams chance at going to state. Don’t test. You’re going to stop wrestling practice or basketball practice. One teen was told that the dance team going to state hung on her shoulders,” she said. “Kids are feeling so much pressure anyway with virtual and hybrid learning. Anxiety is high for everyone. Kids don’t need this added pressure. They can’t help it if they get exposed and they can’t help it if they get sick.”

The only way to slow the curve is to find the people who are asymptomatic, testing people who are mildly ill and getting them to isolate, she added.

Halloween events and activities may be part of the reason the county is seeing a surge in cases. An increase in cases is often tied to large group activities, she said.

With contact tracing, Kroona said there seems to be a lag between the time the positive cases are reported to the state, and the time that the state reports back to the local health department. It’s at that time contract tracing can begin.

“So we’ve received several angry phone calls about why we have not done contact tracing and why aren’t we working our hardest to contact these people,” she said. “We are, but there is the lag, sometimes as many as 8 days before we find out you are positive. Please be patient with the health department. Wait for our call,” she said.

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