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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.

Commissioner Driehaus On COVID-19: 'We're In Dangerous Territory'

otr coronavirus
Jason Whitman
People gathered for food and drinks in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Saturday, May 16, 2020.

Hamilton County officials are concerned about an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the county.

Commission President Denise Driehaus announced Wednesday that there have been 912 new cases reported since a press briefing last week. 

She said the numbers don't lie, and as she reviews them "her heart just sinks."

"Hospitalizations are rising across the Cincinnati region," Driehaus said. "The number of COVID-19 patients in Hamilton County's hospitals has doubled from a low of 65 people on June 11 to more than 130 people this weekend."

Driehaus said the local health collaborative's dashboard shows the regions hospital and intensive care unit beds were just under 80% occupancy on Sunday. She said there's room for more patients, but not the surplus of space that existed in early May as COVID-19 started to ease. She said the trend is going in the wrong direction.

More young people are also ending up in the hospital now because of the virus.

Driehaus said she's often asked whether businesses will be shutdown again. That's up to state officials, not the county commissioners. 

"My answer is always the same: The question is not whether businesses will close again, the question is, how can we all work together to keep them open?" Driehaus said. "We need to redouble our efforts to safely distance, we have to remember to wash our hands frequently, and above all, we need to wear masks."

Driehaus shared stories from her discussions with some of the county's contact tracers about how the virus spreads. In one case, there was a baby shower with people sitting close together without masks and gifts being passed around. One person in the group was infected with COVID-19, and now several others are also infected.

She also shared about a surprise birthday party, where lots of people were together with no distancing and no masks, and many were infected. An older member at the party is now in the hospital.

Interim County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman is asking people to be especially vigilant during the upcoming long holiday weekend during family gatherings.

"If the young kids have been out playing with a bunch of other young kids, the chances that they have become sick with COVID-19 increases," Kesterman said. "If grandma and grandpa have now let down their guard, the chances of grandma and grandpa getting sick from their grandchildren certainly increases. The risk is just as high today as it was at the beginning of the pandemic."

Kesterman said if you're coming together as a family, don't be afraid to social distance and wear a mask, particularly if you are inside.

There continue to be several COVID-19 testing sites in the county, and more than 1,600 were tested Monday and Tuesday in Forest Park with help from the Ohio National Guard.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Courts are prepared to resume jury trials the week of July 13.

Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge Charles Kubicki, Jr. said the trials will be held in three courtrooms that have been modified to provide protective barriers between jurors, and an enclosed space for attorneys for their openings, questions and closings.

Credit Provided / Hamilton County
Hamilton County
Protective dividers have been installed in three Hamilton County courtrooms to separate jurors as the county prepares to resume trials the week of July 13.

"No one should have to choose between health and going to court," Kubicki said. "That's why we are confident with the new system we have put in place."

Hamilton County jury trials have been on hold since March because of the pandemic.

Kesterman assisted judges with the guidelines for the courthouse, which include asking those entering the building to wear masks and to maintain distancing.  There are also several hand sanitizer dispensers located throughout the courthouse.

Judges will work with potential jurors, witnesses or attorneys who have health issues and are concerned about participating in jury trials.