LIMA — Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday flew into the Allen County Airport to warn of a worsening outbreak in Allen County and the western part of the state, which have seen rising cases and a persistent high incidence of community spread fueled in part by large gatherings and defiance of Ohio’s mask orders.
DeWine’s visit was part of a tour of counties with the highest rates of new COVID-19 cases, nearly half of which are concentrated in northwest Ohio and along the Indiana border.
DeWine described the case numbers in Allen County and the surrounding area as “disturbing.”
He touted social distancing and face masks as a “passport to freedom,” warning that failure to control community spread of the coronavirus heading into winter could jeopardize in-person schooling. DeWine noted that compliance with mask orders is often higher in large metropolitan areas, which have seen their outbreaks recede.
Hours later, Allen County Public Health notified the public of an outbreak at the Delphos Eagles Lodge, as 18 individuals who visited the lodge since Sept. 22 have tested positive for coronavirus. Eight of those individuals have since been hospitalized, according to Allen County Public Health.
The outbreak was not traced to a single event. Instead, Allen County Health Commissioner Kathy Luhn said positive cases were likely exposed while dining or socializing at the lodge.
There may be other cases too, as the health department is still investigating the outbreak, including the close contacts of people who have already tested positive.
Luhn encouraged anyone who attended the Delphos Eagles since Sept. 22 to monitor their symptoms and stay home if they become ill.
Allen County reported 144 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people in the two weeks prior to Tuesday, a considerable rise over Sept. 17’s report, in which there were 73 cases per 100,000 people reported in the 14-day period.
Likewise, Ohio recorded a record-high 1,840 new coronavirus cases on Friday. The state’s test positivity rate is also rising, reaching 3.4% this week from about 2.5% three weeks ago.
“This is a bad time to see those numbers going up because it gives us a bad baseline,” Luhn said.
The number of close contacts people report after testing positive for coronavirus has been increasing in recent weeks, Luhn said, which suggests people are socializing in larger groups or becoming lax with basic public health protocols, such as social distancing, hand hygiene and mask usage.
Luhn said the top complaint the agency receives is still the lack of social distancing or masks worn by customers and employees in businesses around the county.
“I know people are tired of COVID,” she said. “We’re all tired of it. Unfortunately, we don’t have many weapons against it. Our biggest weapon is what we do.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine holds up his mask while addressing the media Friday during a visit to the Allen County Airport. DeWine toured parts of the state with high incidence rates of COVID-19.
New outbreak traced to Delphos Eagles