Union County Health Commissioner Jason Orcena took time during the most recent Board of Health meeting to dispel misconceptions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the last few weeks have seen “an explosion in new cases,” Orcena said myths regarding the severity of the virus and public health’s response have circulated, as well.
“Some of it is misconception and some of it is fear and, unfortunately, too much is politicization,” he said.
Orcena noted that Union County is experiencing an upward trend in case counts and hospitalizations, similar to the statewide increase. The county had 33 active cases as of Friday.
He said Ohio is “on a trend to see more transmission” and some counties are beginning to see stress on their hospital systems.
Orcena said reopening of the state following the Stay at Home order seems to be driving much of the uptick in cases and hospitalizations.
The source of exposure for some cases are “just simply truly unknown,” he said, but many individuals who have tested positive attended large social functions or went on vacations.
He also addressed a question he said is commonly heard by public health officials: Are we seeing more cases because we have more testing?
Orcena said testing does play a role in identifying new cases, but it not the only factor. He said is important to look at the number of cases along with other statistics.
As testing increases, he said it would be expected that the percent of people who test positive decrease. However, Orcena said the positivity rate for Union County is not available, but statewide it has “risen slightly” from 4% in mid-June to between 5% and 6% currently.
He also noted that the health department views testing as a means to stop the spread of the virus, not necessarily a full representation of how many people are affected.
“Testing doesn’t change how much activity there is, it just helps us to understand the level of activity better so we can inform our residents and community partners,” Orcena included in a presentation to board members.
Orcena also emphasized that it does not count as a new case each time a person tests positive, a message recently echoed by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted during Thursday’s press conference.
The health commissioner said an individual’s positive results are only counted once during the course of an illness.
Husted said if a person tests positive again after a period of recovery, they may be added as a new active case but will not be counted as a newly infected person in the total case count.
Orcena said he is also often asked why local or state health departments keep track of total case counts, rather than just active cases.
For any communicable disease, Orcena said public health agencies analyze data over time. He said the health department monitors the total case counts because it allows them to evaluate how cases spread during the course of a long-term outbreak.
He also acknowledged that many people have expressed what he said is a false belief that healthcare systems receive additional funding if they experience more cases of COVID-19.
“There is no funding going to any entity for increased case counts,” Orcena said.
He added that individuals who are ill with COVID-19 will be billed for hospital services in the same manner that treatment would be billed for any disease.
He said perpetuating the myth is “an odd mix of trying to undermine what the case count looks like.”
Aside from stopping the spread of COVID-19, Orcena said health department employees are working to support community members to interpret public health orders and guidance as the pandemic develops.
“It’s amazing how quickly things evolve in this response,” he said.
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