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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 Spreading In Ohio's Rural Communities Including Clermont, Brown Counties

Bill Rinehart
A nameless creek winds between Miami Township and Loveland in Clermont County.

Gov. Mike DeWine says while urban areas are trending down, Ohio's rural counties are starting to see more community spread.

Ohio's overall number of cases has gone down, and the number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions are down as well. But in the list of "top 10" counties with the highest occurrence, Mercer, Champaign, Lawrence, and Darke counties topped the list.

Credit Screengrab

"The first four counties are what we would normally consider rural counties," DeWine said. "If you go through the rest of the list you do see Lucas – a bigger county – and Franklin, but you also see Perry County, Meigs, and Seneca County, as well as Fairfield; smaller counties."

DeWine emphasized the list is not a "long historical look back" but a look at the last two weeks.

"We do adjust for population by county, so what we're trying to see is, what is the intensity during the last two weeks of the COVID spread and COVID cases in the county?" DeWine explained.

DeWine pulled up a map of where all of Ohio's 88 counties stood on the state's color-coded public health advisory scale. Twelve counties are red, with three new additions: Clermont – which had at one time come off level red, but is now back on – Brown and Muskingum counties.

Brown County is red for the first time. "Twenty-one percent of their cases throughout this pandemic have occurred in the last two weeks, one-fifth," DeWine said. "While they've had a couple of outbreaks, the number of cases linked to those outbreaks has been low, which indicates significant community spread throughout the county."

Clermont County, meanwhile, saw cases increase throughout June with about 120 cases a week in early July, DeWine said. "This was followed by good news: the community was just starting to see those cases come down as we moved through July – down to under 80 new cases in the third week of July," he said. "However, the last two weeks we're seeing cases creep back up."

In addition to cases going back up, DeWine said Clermont County is seeing increases in health care use for patients with COVID-19.

At 298 cases, Mercer County was "way above anybody else," DeWine said.

This doesn't mean Ohio's urban areas are faring better. "Urban areas are tending down, but they are still high," the governor concluded. "They are above 100 in most of our cities. The indications aren't going up but they are at a high level."

DeWine said as Ohio schools resume classes over the next few weeks – some with in-person classes – there is more opportunity for community spread.

Jennifer Merritt brings 15 years of "tra-digital" journalism experience to WVXU, having served in various digital roles for such legacy publications as InStyle and Parade, as well as start-ups like Levo League and iVillage. She helped these outlets earn several awards, including MIN's 2015 Digital Team of the Year. She graduated from Rutgers University with a journalism major and English minor and has continued her education with professional development classes through the Poynter Institute, Columbia University and PMJA. Before moving to Cincinnati from New York in 2016, she vowed her son would always call it "soda" and not "pop." She has so far been successful in this endeavor.