FREMONT — COVID-19 cases in Sandusky and Ottawa counties stabilized this week after rising for most of the summer.
Both counties are rated high on the community transmission level set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local public health officials are anticipating a surge in case numbers this fall and winter.
Sandusky County saw a slight week-over-week drop in cases, with reported 155 cases and zero deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 169 cases and zero deaths.
Bethany Brown, Sandusky County's health commissioner, said Monday the county's health department believed there that there is an underreporting of case numbers, with some residents testing positive after using at-home test kits as opposed to getting a positive result at a doctor's office or some place that would officially report it.
Brown said the county expected a surge in the coming months based on COVID-19 trends from the past two years, where case numbers rose sharply in the fall through December and January.
In an effort to avoid a spike in cases, Sandusky County Public Health held a personal protective equipment (PPE) giveaway Friday at its Countryside Drive office.
Brown said a lot of the protective gear, which included masks, isolation gowns and face shields, was distributed to nursing homes and dental and doctor's offices.
Health department is out of at-home COVID tests
"But we did have some of the general public," Brown said.
The health department is currently out of at-home COVID test kits, Brown said.
She said she did not know when the state will send more kits to Sandusky County.
People are still trickling into the health department's clinic for vaccines, although most of those visits are for booster shots, Brown said.
Sandusky County's vaccination rate is 55%, while Ottawa County's is 64%, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The CDC's guidelines for counties with high transmission levels include wearing a mask indoors in public, staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and getting tested if you have symptoms.
Like Brown, Ottawa County Health Commissioner Jerry Bingham said he believes a lot of COVID numbers in Ottawa County are being underreported.
Ottawa County reports 157 COVID cases in last 14 days
He said the county had a seven-day total of 76 cases reported since Aug. 1, with no deaths or hospitalizations.
Ottawa County reported 157 cases in the last 14 days, Bingham said, with only two hospitalizations and no deaths.
He said a COVID surge, if it happens, in the fall and winter months would be similar to higher numbers typically seen in those time periods with other respiratory viruses.
Bingham said he would be meeting with school superintendents from across Ottawa County later this week to discuss what each school district's plans are regarding COVID-19.
He said his gut feeling is that Ottawa County school districts will not be instituting any mask mandates and would be encouraging students, teachers and staff to stay home if they feel sick and follow CDC guidelines of staying away from other people for at least five days if they contract COVID.
Fremont City Schools Superintendent Jon Detwiler said his district would not be imposing any mask mandates in the classrooms. He said students will also not be required to wear masks on buses.
Detwiler said he would be following whatever guidance comes from the county's health department regarding COVID.
Brown said each Sandusky County school district can put their own requirements in place.
"I'm anticipating it will be up to parents if they send kids to schools with masks," Brown said.
Focus will be on COVID outbreaks in fall and winter
Sandusky County Public Health will be focusing its attention on COVID outbreak situations around the county this fall and winter.
Brown said for a school, that would mean there were two or three or more cases in an individual classroom, or places like a nursing home or congregant settings.
Brown and Bingham said there have been no reported cases of monkeypox in either county, with each health department fielding some calls from concerned residents about the virus.
This article originally appeared on Fremont News-Messenger: Sandusky, Ottawa County COVID numbers rise in summer