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City Council discusses increase of COVID-19 community spread

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Athens City Council discussed Monday during a meeting the recent increase in community spread of the coronavirus and plans to limit its spread.

Cases of COVID-19 in Athens over the last three weeks have started to transition from being almost exclusively in the 18 to 29-year-old demographic to community spread, according to Jack Pepper, the administrator for the Athens City-County Health Department. The community spread is not traceable back to Ohio University campus residents in any way, Pepper said.

“It is no longer fair to place blame exclusively on the student population,” Pepper said. 

Instead, the increase in cases has been seen in long-term care facilities, according to Pepper. He gave the example of a long-term care facility in Athens that currently had 19 confirmed cases of the coronavirus Monday, but no confirmed cases at that location the Friday before. Pepper said the example shows that in certain congregate settings, COVID-19 spreads more rapidly.

Pepper noted that in the past, free testing did not do much to identify citizens with COVID-19, but it is now being reconsidered.

Gillian Ice, the special assistant for public health operations at Ohio U, placed emphasis on the coronavirus spreading through smaller gatherings rather than gatherings of more than 10. She said this is an issue within the state and across the country. Ohio U has made an effort to provide virtual, socially distant activities for students.

The high percentage of positive coronavirus tests at Ohio U resulted in the residents of Boyd, Jefferson and Tiffin Halls placed into quarantine a few weeks back. Since then, there has been a significant decrease in positive tests and an increase in testing, according to Ice.

“I am fairly confident that we are on a downswing and that we will stay there,” Ice said.

Ohio U is also in the process of adopting an alert system that models that of Miami University in which students receive notifications of an increase in coronavirus cases in their residence hall. Ice noted a critical component to reducing coronavirus spread is weekly testing for on-campus students. Ice said the goal for spring semester is for off-campus students to be tested bi-weekly.

“Now is not the time to come complacent, now is the time to become vigilant,” Pepper said. 

Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said there have not been many complaints related to mask ordinance violations, and there is an effort to break up large groups Uptown.

“The officers in my department believe that the students are rising to the challenge and haven’t been violating mass gatherings on the weekends to the extent that some people believe,” Pyle said. 

As to the concern that Halloween will cause a spike in cases, the police department is prepared to handle any complaints that come in, Pyle said.

For Halloween, the Honey for the Heart parade will still occur on West State Street. Trick or Treating will be from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 31. Mayor Steve Patterson strongly recommends families who plan to trick or treat go as a family unit and follow the recommendations from the Ohio Department of Health. 

Terri Moore, the director of the Athens Arts, Parks and Recreation Department, also gave an update on the reopening of the department’s facilities. The recreation center is currently operating at one-third capacity while following mask and distancing regulations. Moore added the department is looking to create safe indoor youth programs for the winter. 

CARES Act Funds were used to purchase deploring ionizers for the community center, which remove COVID-19 air particles from the air. The deploring ionizers were also placed in Arts West, the police department and the city building.

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