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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Still On The Rise In Butler County, Contact Tracers Wanted

Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer speaking during a news conference Friday on Facebook Live.

Even as Ohio begins reopening some businesses, Butler County officials say cases of COVID-19 continue to increase.

There were 257 confirmed cases of the disease and six deaths reported as of Friday morning. Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer says most cases are occurring in home or workplace clusters.

"We are seeing an increased number of clusters as reports come in and we make connections between this case and that case and we expect to see more clusters in the future as this outbreak rolls along," Bailer says, adding cases continue to go up.

"We have not flattened out yet in Butler County. We look for that to happen, we hope that that will happen. We're not surging at an exponential rate but we have not flattened out as much as we would like."

Following a national trend, the disease is affecting a higher number of African Americans. Bailer says 52% of cases are white, 45% non-white and the rest unknown. "In our county we have between 80-85% white so if 45% of our cases are non-white that means they're occurring more often in non-white populations."

The county is expanding its contact tracing capabilities. Each COVID-positive patient must be investigated. Bailer says that can be more than 20 phone calls per case, not including unanswered calls and messages left.

Bailer says the county has 11-12 people currently doing contact tracing, four are full-time and the rest part-time. She says 10 medical and public health students are being brought on as volunteers to do contact tracing. "That will probably cover us well for the next two to three weeks. As testing ramps up more we know that we will have to bring on more contact tracers as well."

The health department is looking for additional volunteers with the necessary skills. Bailer says people who are interested and have the necessary skill set can contact the health district.

Asked whether the agency will police people for not wearing masks, Bailer says the agency will respond to complaints but not actively be "the mask police." She is encouraging people to wear masks in public, social distance, stay home as much as possible, and isolate if you show symptoms.

Finally, Bailer says, if you're sick it is appropriate to seek health care.

"Hospitals will take care of people who are ill. You don't need to be afraid to go to the hospital" she says. "If you are ill you should go to the hospital. I'm talking about if you're ill with something other than the COVID-19 virus. If you have other health needs, please call your health care provider and go to the hospital if you need to to get the care you need."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.