Lucas, Hancock successfully navigating COVID-19 turnaround after ranking among worst in Ohio

Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 5:20 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Lucas and Hancock counties each held unwanted distinctions at different points in April: Having the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in Ohio.

On April 8, Hancock County reached 335 cases per 100,000 residents to top all Ohio counties. Lucas County eventually took over the top spot and reached 357.7 cases by the end of that month.

The state’s COVID-19 incidence rate continues to fall -- over the last two weeks is 58.3 per 100,000 residents. Lucas County is now below the state average at 55.3. Meanwhile, Hancock has the fourth-best mark at 22.4.

“The credit goes to our residents who really were taking the precautions, wearing their masks, distancing, and doing everything they could to protect each other,” said Hancock County Health Commissioner Karim Baroudi.

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Hancock County, despite only having nine active cases, is below the state average first-dose vaccination rate of 45%. Just over 40% of residents have received at least one dose, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

He said efforts are going to ramp up to vaccinate kids and teens, but people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are also lagging behind the state average. The way to address those who are hesitant, he said, is to reiterate the facts.

One he points to involves breakthrough cases: people who test positive for COVID-19 after getting their second dose. Only 11 people of the more than 27,000 in Hancock County who are fully vaccinated fall under that category. That’s 0.04% of fully-vaccinated residents who have tested positive for COVID-19. None have required hospitalization.

“Those are good numbers here locally that should convince people that the time to consider the vaccine is now,” Baroudi said.

The CDC says the number of breakthrough cases in the U.S. is likely higher because most people who would count toward the total might not seek testing. Between January and April, 355,000 breakthrough cases were reported out of 101 million fully-vaccinated Americans, or 0.35%.

In Lucas County, nearly 45% of residents have received at least one dose, just shy of the state-average pace.

That’s helped drive down the case count in the county since April, along with the fact that there hasn’t been a major holiday since Easter that would require large groups of people to gather together indoors, said Lucas County Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski.

He’s still concerned about a possible uptick in cases that will follow Memorial Day gatherings,

“I believe we’ll have some added disease in the community,” he said. “I don’t know how much. Let’s hope that it’s a very small amount so those numbers don’t climb back up.”

Zgodzinski and Baroudi both stressed the people who are at the greatest risk currently are those who are unvaccinated, especially as health restrictions are largely lifted in Ohio.

Herd immunity is going to be harder to achieve as the pace of vaccinations slow, Zgodzinski said. That’s why he believes the focus of the next chapter already underway in the pandemic is learning how to live with COVID-19.

“Each day is going to be a new day living with COVID,” Zgodzinski said. “We’re going to have to take that and keep COVID as low as we can in the community to protect those who are susceptible to it.”

Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery did help boost immunizations in both counties. But the pace is slowing back down to rates they were seeing before the sweepstake’s launch.

Hancock County didn’t see the boost experienced in other rural parts of Ohio from Vax-a-Million, Baroudi said. But it still provided a spark in the community to get vaccinated.

This week’s million-dollar winner, Jonathan Carlyle, is from Toledo in Lucas County. He said he was putting off getting vaccinated until the lottery was announced.

With three more drawings, Baroudi said he hopes the possibility of winning the Vax-a-Million drawing encourages more people in Hancock County to roll up their sleeves.

“Everybody feels that it’s getting closer,” Baroudi said. “We want a winner from Findlay. Let’s get more people vaccinated.”

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