The second wave of the COVID-19 virus has begun to hit Crawford County, the health commissioner warned Thursday.
In the week ending Wednesday, 100 new cases were reported in Crawford County Public Health’s jurisdiction, with more people hospitalized for the virus than at any other point in the pandemic, said Kate Siefert, health commissioner.
As of Thursday morning, 19 were hospitalized with the virus, out of 142 active cases.
“This isn’t over, unfortunately,” Siefert said. “Trust me, we wish it was, but it’s not. I think wave No. 2 is going to go fast and we’re going to see a big increase in numbers.”
Historically, new viruses tend to hit the population in three or four waves — and the country is just entering the second wave with COVID-19, she said.
“So we’re not even halfway through dealing with COVID-19, and I kind of want people to remember that. We’ve got a ways to go. We’re still all dealing with this. We’re going to be dealing with this for a while. That doesn’t mean you have to stop living. It just means you need to think about your choices and how you do things as you go about living, and keep in mind there’s still a highly contagious and infectious virus that is easily spread from person to person.
“You do need to keep living, kids do need to be in school. Businesses still need to open, we need to be working, but we need to really think about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And if we can, get vaccinated.”
County EMA gearing up for second wave, too
Like the health department, the Crawford County Emergency Management Agency is gearing up, “like we were last year when it all kind of started,” said Jette Cander, the agency’s director. “Obviously knowing more this time around than last.”
“We’re making sure we have PPE available if it’s needed, re-inventorying everything and making those phone calls and emails to our partners, just to make sure that they’re reading Kate’s information and that you know things are changing quickly,” Cander said.
The agency also focuses on making sure good information is getting out to residents — including facts about vaccinations — so people can make their own choices.
“It’s just all of us together, trying to make good choices,” Cander said. “Making sure that our nursing homes and anyone who deals with the elderly, that they’re kind of gearing back up as well. …
“My job is to perpetuate any information that’s out there so you can make the decision that’s right for yourself — but please be aware if you don’t do this, you should be doing this… if you’re not going to get the vaccination, here’s what you should be doing. Always your choice, but you have to still be cognizant of everybody else as well.
“You know how people are, once they make an opinion, it’s kind of hard to change their point. We’re not about changing opinions; we’re about giving good information.”
County vaccination rate remains below 40%
Across Ohio, 51.45% of the population has had at least one dose of vaccine, but Crawford County’s rate is at 39.55%, according to health department figures.
The health commissioner said she’s always willing to speak with people who have questions about whether they should get vaccinated.
“I don’t want them to not get vaccinated based on misinformation,” Siefert said. “If you have a good reason for not getting vaccinated, that’s great. I’m all for you. You did your homework, you understand how it works, you understand how it doesn’t work, you understand it reduces the risk of the virus … then I’m with you. Because you’ve done your homework.
“But when I have people calling me up and telling me that this vaccine’s no good because they rushed it — well no, you didn’t do your homework because you don’t understand the technology. …
“Why would you take medical advice from a politician, or somebody who’s not in the medical field? If you have questions about the vaccine, talk to your doctor. Talk to a nurse. They can understand, they can explain how this vaccine works. And I think it’s important for people to fully understand that.”
Siefert said she’s frustrated by the degree to which the nation’s response to the pandemic has become a political issue.
“It’s not a focus on the science, it’s not a focus on prevention, it more has shifted to a focus on the politics of how do you deal with a virus,” she said. “And I think that’s unfortunate, particularly when prevention is no longer at the forefront of everyone’s response and activity.”
Local statistical information is limited
People often ask questions about the weekly COVID-19 updates the health department posts on its Facebook page, such as how many who contracted the virus had been vaccinated, Siefert said. They’re questions she can’t always answer.
The health department receives limited information about each positive test, she explained — a name, address, birthdate and a phone number.
“It doesn’t come along with a medical history or any information about who they live with and who their doctor is or anything like that,” she said. “We get none of that information. We don’t know where they work — we don’t know anything.”
The health department tries to contact each individual for information that might help officials track the virus’ spread — but less than half return the phone calls.
Information available on the state’s vaccination database is not always up to date, and it’s often difficult to identify each individual.
“When we get 100 cases in a week, we just can’t sit there in that database and look for 100 names, especially if we don’t have good information to verify,” Siefert said. “… Since we’re talking to so few of the cases, we can’t really confirm if they’re vaccinated or not with confidence. So that’s why we don’t report that. We know it’s frustrating. Now when we know it, we will mark it.”
She estimated that about 10% of people hospitalized have been vaccinated, matching the national average.
Still, the lack of solid statistical information is frustrating, Siefert said.
Siefert: Vaccine decreases risk of hospitalization
Health officials knew that four of the 18 hospitalized as of Wednesday were vaccinated, “but they also were a little bit older and all four had underlying health conditions.”
“It still is running consistent with us that to decrease your risk of hospitalization or to decrease your risk of severe illness … even with the delta variant being so widespread, that you are better off being vaccinated than not being vaccinated,” Siefert said.
One man has been hospitalized since July 25, she noted, adding, “I cannot imagine what those bills are going to be. …
“So I’m also thinking from an economic standpoint, the vaccine’s free. We don’t even ask for insurance, there’s no co-pay, there’s nothing. Why wouldn’t you? That is still mind-boggling to me. Why wouldn’t you?”
The county health department has administered more than 7,000 vaccines at its office without a single severe adverse reaction, she said.
“Talking with so many of these cases, and so many of the families, how quickly their lives got changed I think is startling as well,” Siefert said. “At one time when we looked back at the deaths, a majority of them, it was less than a week from the time of diagnosis to the time of death. That’s how how quickly the infection and virus can spread and take over. That’s just startling.”
The department’s nurses work closely with many of the patients who do respond to phone calls, answering questions and offering advice on how to avoid spreading the illness to other family members.
“I guess my plea is for all of those who do test positive to answer the call when a public health nurse calls you,” she said.
Statistics on delta variant not available
Siefert said she also gets asked how prevalent the delta variant is in the county.
“The labs do not test every sample for delta; it’s actually a very small number,” she said.
The information is reported to the CDC, which uses biostatistics to extrapolate how many cases involve the delta variant.
“So it’s not a perfect science, but it’s pretty darn close, especially when you’re dealing with the mass quantities that we’re dealing with,” she said.
But the only information the local health department receives is whether the test was positive or negative, and what type of test was used.
Free at-home tests are available at libraries
Going to a hospital or clinic isn’t the only way to get tested for COVID-19. The health department supplies the Bucyrus and Crestline public libraries with free at-home tests. Crestline also sends some of the tests to its New Washington branch.
“Just like we don’t build a house with only a hammer or only a saw, you have this whole set of tools and things you’re using to build the house, you need all these tools with the virus as well,” Siefert said. “And a screening test kit that you can take at home is an excellent tool to add to everything else.”
The at-home tests are a great way to tell if that sniffle or cough is COVID-19 or perhaps a cold or seasonal allergy, she explained.
“Every morning, then, if you’re doubting it or not sure if you should go to work and be around other people, or should I go to my Mom and Dad’s and drop off their groceries or go to dinner with them, because you don’t want to expose them — this gives you a tool to test and see if you’re positive or negative,” she said.
The tests are not as reliable as the ones administered by health professionals, but “it helps add to your information.”
If the result is positive, reach out to a doctor, she urged.
“More information is always better, and having those rapid test kits at the library is such an awesome tool for the community — and they’re free, and there’s no limit,” she said.
Demand for tests suddenly surges
Within the last two weeks, the demand for those tests has skyrocketed, said Stephanie Buchanan, director of the Bucyrus Public Library.
“It’s crazy right now,” she said. “Honestly, during the whole time that we were handing them out, I think the week we gave out the most, we gave 56. Yesterday, we gave out 30 by 3 in the afternoon.”
Buchanan said she has no idea why the demand has suddenly increased.
“They’re doing a really good job of keeping us supplied with those,” she said. “No chance of running out, but I’m just amazed we’re handing out that many.”
Siefert said she thinks that perhaps when the free tests were first made available, people were reluctant to use them because they wanted to avoid involvement with the health department. But now, “they’re starting to see the value in having a little bit of information.” Also, they like the fact that no one else sees the results.
People are starting to notice the increase
The increased number of cases over the last two weeks is a factor, too, she said.
“October last year, when the first wave kind of started, it didn’t skyrocket up quite as quickly as this wave seems to be skyrocketing, and I think that’s the difference with this variant,” she said. “The delta is definitely more contagious, meaning it spreads easier. I think you need less exposure to it than you did with the previous versions. So it’s going to spread quicker.
“When you don’t have a lot of precautions in place and you have a highly contagious virus, it’s just going to take off, and that’s what we’re seeing. I think people are starting to notice that, just this week.”
COVID-19 in Crawford County:The COVID-19 crisis in Crawford County: One year later
Siefert said she expects the current wave to peak in about six weeks.
“One of the things about not having mandates is that all of your choices are yours. So you need to make the best choices that you can, for not only protecting yourself but for protecting others. And getting vaccinated is definitely something I would love to see as many of us do that as we can,” she said. “There are some people that medically, they should not get vaccinated and their doctors will be advising them that, and that’s fine. And we need to respect that. But for the majority of us, getting vaccinated is your best protection from this virus. So that if you do get a case of it, it’s going to be mild.”