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Ohioans deserve quick, accurate COVID statistics

We are sorely disappointed at the lack of communication, discrepancies and misinformation provided by Ohio’s administration on Trumbull County’s COVID-19 “Level 3” designation, and on statistics of cases in surrounding counties — including Mahoning — as well.

While Trumbull County’s “red” designation and related mask mandate have, at least for now, been lifted, we remain unsatisfied with the state’s explanations, which leave us lacking knowledge on whether the likelihood exists that local counties might soon move into a “red” designation again.

While it is the Ohio Department of Health that has failed to answer our questions, we put this squarely on the shoulders of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, with whom the buck stops.

Upon noticing discrepancies and seeking further details on the exact numbers that drove the governor’s mask mandate for Trumbull County and several other counties, our reporter, David Skolnick, started seeking more complete statistics on Monday. As of Friday, one day after the mask mandate had been lifted, many of our questions remained unanswered.

Specifically, we sought explanations on reported case numbers, inconsistencies with Trumbull County Combined Health District data and the lag in reporting emergency room visits.

One indicator that put Trumbull County into the red level dealt with the number of new cases per capita. Specifically, to be flagged a county must surpass 50 cases per 100,000 residents during a two-week look-back period.

Trumbull had 47.3 cases per 100,000 residents between June 24 and 30, but that dropped to 14.6 cases between July 1 and 7 for a total of 61.9 cases over the two weeks, according to the Ohio Department of Health. It was at 51.4 cases per 100,000 between June 17 and 23.

The county didn’t reach more than the 35.4 cases per 100,000 residents between July 8 and Wednesday, which relieved county residents of the mask mandate.

But inconsistencies exist with the reported cases metric. There were 103 reported cases for June 24 to 30, and an increase to 146 between July 1 and 7, according to daily data provided by the Trumbull County Combined Health District.

With the U.S. Census Bureau reporting 197,974 residents in the county, Trumbull had about 51.4 cases per 100,000 residents between June 24 and 30 and an increase to just under 73 cases per 100,000 residents between July 1 and 7.

When posed with the question, an ODH spokeswoman assured us she would have the department examine the discrepancy. We still are waiting for the answer.

Another indicator on which Trumbull County had been flagged was the proportion of cases not stemming from a congregate setting surpassing 50 percent in at least one of the past three weeks, showing a greater risk of community spread. Those numbers were not provided for Trumbull County, despite our request.

The other two indicators for Trumbull are an increase of at least five days in overall cases and an increase over at least five days in the number of emergency room visits with COVID-like illness or a diagnosis.

From June 16 to 27, the average new cases per day in Trumbull increased from eight to 17, according to the Ohio Department of Health; however, a chart shows that number to be below 10 starting July 1. It also is inconsistent with Trumbull County Combined Health District data that shows cases increasing by 25 on July 1, 24 on July 2 and 27 on July 3.

Emergency room visits are reported to have increased from three on June 16 to eight on June 29.

Still, some dates in the report were several weeks old, and others were up-to-date.

Even more exasperating is the fact that the state does not provide these figures for every county. They gather the data and compile it in order to determine what alert level applies to each county, but they have not readily released it via the ODH website. The ODH spokeswoman couldn’t explain when we asked why the department doesn’t provide information about counties below Level 3 in order to provide a warning to residents about rising numbers.

We are miffed by the lack of responsiveness. Certainly, if we, the fourth estate attempting to fulfill our obligation to inform the public, are unable to obtain the explanations and answers about this very important health crisis, how are we to be expected to share good information? And why should Ohioans feel comfortable that they are doing the right thing to reduce our COVID risk?

editorial@tribtoday.com

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