With the start of August, we are now in the sixth month since the global pandemic began to directly affect our country and our community. Long gone are the Zoom happy hours, hobbyist bread baking, and cultural zeitgeist of Tiger King. Gone with it, it seems, is the collective hope and belief that if we all just hunker down for a few weeks, a month, that we would get through this together. That initial optimism has calcified into something harder, more fractious. Now, social media feeds are dominated by arguments about face masks as a political hot button, and the moral and ethical implications of dining out in restaurants.

The Mid-Ohio Valley has not been immune to this. Like much of the country, there have been sharp increases in the number of cases since reopening began around Memorial Day. As of August 10th, the Ohio Department of Health reported 205 total cases in Washington county with 22 deaths; the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reports 247 total cases for Wood County with five deaths.

According to Carrie Brainard of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, these cases are actually trending in the right direction. Responding via email on July 29th, Ms. Brainard advised that, though there had been a spike of 8 to 10 new cases per day, they were now seeing only 2 or 3 per day. She advised that what we’ve been seeing over the summer constitutes a “second wave” of cases, exacerbated locally by out of state travel. Ms. Brainard also wrote that she believes that we will see another spike, possibly even a third wave, when schools reopen in the coming weeks.

Sherry Ellem, Program Manager of the Washington County Health Department, expressed similar sentiments. Responding via email, Ms. Ellem wrote, “Many in our community are taking the pandemic seriously and practicing a lot of the preventative measures. Could we do better? Yes! That is why the term ‘practice’ is so fitting.” She also pointed to the website rt.live as a great resource for tracking infection rate rather than simply tracking cases. If a state’s Rt rating is above a 1.0, the virus will spread quickly through the community; below, it will slow or even stop. As of August 5th, both WV and OH were below a 1.0

Despite the worry for another potential spike when children return to school, both women felt strongly that continuing to adhere to established guidelines is the best course of action. Ms. Brainard wrote, “Although it is controversial, it appears that when more people wear masks, the exposures are more limited and the cases are fewer.” Sherry Ellem pointed to a study that forecasted that, if 80% of a population committed to wearing masks in public, it would be even more effective to reduce spread than another strict lockdown. “If this study proves true, masks seem like an easy choice,” she said. She also pointed to avoiding the “Three Cs”: crowded places, close-contact settings, and confined and enclosed spaces.

Despite the rise in cases, the seemingly unending list of closings and delays, and the looming question of what will happen when schools begin to reopen, both women saw positives in how our communities have handled the pandemic thus far. When asked what advice she could give as we move forward, Carrie Brainard wrote, “Be kind – care about your neighbor, check on them, and see if they need something when you are out.  Follow the guidelines as well.  If you see someone not wearing a mask, remember that we don’t know their circumstances, and if you see someone wearing a mask, be thankful that they are trying to help limit your exposure.”