Hamilton County's health commissioner said Wednesday if current COVID-19 trends continue, it's "inevitable" the county will reach "purple" on the state's health advisory map. That's the highest and most severe level.
The state's website indicates purple means there's "severe exposure and spread," and people should only leave home for supplies and services.
Currently the county is "red" on the state's health advisory map, meeting five of the seven indicators used to create the map. Meeting six or seven indicators moves that to "purple."
"There are two indicators in which we're still not flagged, and I would say we're very close, particularly with hospital admissions to seeing that indicator shift to being flagged," said Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman. "We continue to make some improvements within volumes, within our hospitals associated with overall volumes, so it's a little bit unsure if we'll go this week."
Kesterman said it's possible when the new advisory map is released Thursday, Hamilton County could be "red plus," and then shift to "purple" the following week if the numbers remain elevated.
County Commission President Denise Driehaus said local officials aren't sure of the practical effects on going "purple."
"There are other steps that we think might come down relative to businesses and schools," Driehaus said. "So, I don't know definitively what that might look like as these cases increase because only the governor can really answer that question."
But Driehaus said there are things residents can do to help.
"The only way to prevent this county from going into that purple range as we see cases increasing exponentially is to do what we know works," Driehaus said. "Wear the mask, wash your hands and socially distance. We know what to do, we just need to all commit to doing it."
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Hamilton County are increasing to levels not seen since the beginning of the pandemic in the spring.
In the last week, there have been an additional 1,327 new positive cases of the virus. That compares to 954 last week and 490 three weeks ago.
The number of people in county hospitals being treated for the coronavirus right now is in the 200 range, and a few weeks ago that number was less than 100.
Even with an increasing number of people in local hospitals, officials said the region's health facilities are prepared to handle the cases without additional space. In the spring, the Duke Energy Convention Center had been set up to be used as a hospital, but that never saw use. Officials don't see that scenario happening again anytime soon.
President and CEO of UC Health Dr. Richard Lofgren said health leaders have learned a lot since the spring about the virus and treating it. Plus, he said right now there's an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, which was not the case in the spring.
Health officials are also concerned about additional COVID-19 cases as the weather turns colder, and events and gathering that have been happening outside move inside.
"We can do many activities safely although it does take more effort," Kesterman said. "We should not forget social distancing, masks and hygiene. Packed sidelines at sporting events, large group gatherings, even small group gatherings, are all opportunities for us to spread COVID-19."