MENTOR, Ohio — On Thursday, Franklin County became the first county in the state to reach Level 4 'purple' -- the highest level listed -- on the state's coronavirus (COVID) Public Health Advisory System.
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If their numbers don't improve, Lake County, Lorain County and Montgomery County could soon follow.
In revealing the state's latest Public Health Advisory System on Thursday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine shared that Lake County, Lorain County and Montgomery County have each been added to Level 4 watch list. That means that all three counties currently meet at least six of the seven indicators necessary to labeled at a Level 4 risk level, but will not be officially moved to Level 4 until those indicators remain for a second consecutive week.
That means that if Lake County, Lorain County and/or Montgomery County still carry at least six of the necessary indicators next Thursday, they'll be moved to Level 4, which Ohio's Public Health Advisory System describes as "severe exposure and spread" of the coronavirus.
The news came as no surprise to Matt Nichols of the Lake County Health District, which reported 252 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 2,984 cases in the past two weeks. He blames COVID fatigue for the spread.
"Folks, you know, getting together with friends and family, hosting things like weddings and funerals, parties and of that nature," he told 3News.
Lake County Health Commissioner Ron Graham is getting his workers ready.
"We’re also now looking at the hospitals and looking at EMS and the paramedics and how can we handle diverting patients in the region," he said.
First responders are bracing, too, and Mentor Fire Chief Bob Searles says they will be challenged.
"That is concerning to me," he admitted. "We have the Thanksgiving holiday season coming up. We’re seeing these numbers rise. We’re preparing for every call that we go on as if it were a COVID call."
Chief Tony Hutton with the Kirtland Fire Department added that decontaminating trucks after those calls also takes time.
"Up to an hour," he said. "A lot of our ambulances in the county are going out of service for extended periods of time."
It can pose a real problem during emergencies, such as last Sunday’s storms. In Lorain County, the health commissioner also reports seeing roughly 2,000 cases in the past two weeks.
"We do have quite a few nursing homes that have begun to show signs of more cases now," Commissioner Dave Covell said, adding it has been stressful on everyone. "We also have one of our correctional facilities [that] also has some cases in it.
Covell is concerned that hospitals in the county could soon become overwhelmed. He is pleading with citizens to do their part to stop the spread.
"This virus is everywhere," he lamented. "We all have to take it seriously if we want to slow it down."
Over the next four months, Lorain County will be rolling out a public awareness campaign with the message to just "hang in there" through March. By then, Covell and others hope there may be a vaccine and COVID-19 will finally be under control.
While DeWine had previously used risk levels to activate orders, such as a mandate to wear masks, the Ohio governor said last month that a county turning purple wouldn't necessarily lead to new restrictions.
"We're not going to issue additional orders," DeWine said in October. "It's just one more piece of information. Going into purple is a signal that potentially we have a hospital problem."
Earlier this week, Gov. DeWine announced a 21-day 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew that is set to go into effect on Thursday night.