The Wood County Health Department and area law enforcement agencies won’t be patrolling this weekend to make sure everyone is wearing a mask — even though it’s a county-wide mandate.

Wood County was put in the “public emergency” category on Thursday by the state due to high-rising coronavirus cases.

The level 3 alert means everyone must wear a mask in public, indoors and outside when 6-feet social distancing is not available. The state order goes into effect Friday at 6 p.m.

At Thursday’s board of health meeting, members asked Commissioner Ben Batey how enforceable the mask mandate is.

“The question on enforcement, it’s very tricky,” Batey said. “The challenge around that is we can’t go running around the county just because one resident takes a mask off in a grocery store.”

The community is being asked to cooperate, he said.

“We know it’s the most efficient way we can get our numbers down as quickly as possible,” Batey said.

If the health department receives continual complaints around a particular location, such as a business where people are congregating and no one is wearing a mask, then there would be a response, he said.

If a charge is filed, it would be a second-degree misdemeanor, Batey said. That is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a maximum $750 fine.

“My goal is to make it through this period of time and not have to charge anybody with that. That would be ideal.”

He expects that compliance will be the norm.

“We’ve had great cooperation from individuals and businesses throughout this entire response to this pandemic, so I don’t expect that to change.”

The goal of the face coverings is to get the numbers under control, Batey said.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to prove in Wood County that we can control this virus. We know how to do it and now we’ve been given tools to operate with, to function and make that happen.

“I would hate to see people just not take it seriously and have us continue in the wrong direction.”

As of Thursday, Wood County had 54 active coronavirus cases. The level 3 was issued based on last week’s numbers.

“It’s a two-week rolling average of data that they’re looking at to make that determination for each county,” Batey said. “We triggered four indicators.

“To be at level 2 you’re at only two or three of the indicators they’re looking at.”

For all of the indicators, it really hinged around community spread, Batey said.

“It’s a different population that we’re starting to see those increases in. We’re starting to see that in the younger population, 18-30 but primarily 18-24,” Batey said.

The news isn’t all bad, he said.

“While we’ve seen increases in cases, we haven’t seen increases in hospitalizations or mortality,” Batey said.

“It is alarming to say we’ve moved up a level to level red (3),” he said. “The community spread is there, it’s happening and we’re watching it, our hospital systems are still in good shape.”

People should be serious about a level 3, Batey said.

“This doesn’t mean we should take this lightly because we want to turn the trend around and go back down to orange or level 2 or even lower,” he said. “This is the state’s way of putting that warning out to say, ‘it’s time to take this seriously within your community.’”

Batey said the health department is continuing to provide more information to the public about coronavirus cases.

“When we say active cases, we mean individuals we’re working with that are in isolation in their homes because they’ve tested positive, or they’re a probable case,” he said. “At the highest point … last week, we had 67 cases.”

On Wednesdays, the health department updates the active cases by zip code.

“A good majority of those cases are in the Bowling Green zip code,” Batey said of this week’s numbers. “We can paint the picture for the community, it’s younger individuals in the Bowling Green zip code.”

Don’t blame or stereotype “the college kids,” Batey said.

“It’s just young people like to go out and be together. They’re more likely to go to a crowded bar or restaurant and not socially distance or not wear face coverings, as well.”

Amy Jones, director of health promotion and preparedness, said that this younger population also uses phones a lot.

“They also get the alert right away that someone’s been tested and is positive and they go, ‘you know what, maybe I should be tested,’” she said.

Wood is one of 12 counties in Ohio that are at level 3.

The information below is from the state:

The level 3, which has four-five indicators triggered, is a public emergency, according to Ohio’s alert systems. There are four levels, with level 4 being a public emergency when people should only leave home for supplies and services.

Level 3 means there is very high exposure and spread. The public is advised to limit activities as much as possible and follow all current health orders.

During the past three weeks, Wood County’s COVID-19 cases have increased, along with several other health care indicators.

During the past two weeks, Wood County had a total of 63 cases per 100,000 residents.

More than 18% of Wood County’s total cases have been in the past two weeks. From June 16-July 1, the average daily new cases significantly increased from less than one to nine.

Due to clinical and reporting lags, these numbers may continue to grow for this reporting period.

More than 89% of the cases are not in congregate settings, signaling significant transmission in the broader community. The community is also experiencing early signs that people are seeking medical care for COVID-19 symptoms. Between June 16 and July 2, the average outpatient visits nearly doubled form three to seven visits per day.

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