LANCASTER – Fairfield County Health Commissioner Joe Ebel said he’s surprised COVID-19 case numbers have risen so dramatically this summer but said he doesn’t foresee a local mask mandate.
“I was cautiously optimistic when our numbers were dropping so severely,” Ebel said. “I thought that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the numbers go up as we get in the fall and the kids go back to school. I was a little surprised to see it spike as quickly in the summer because you think most activities are outdoors.”
He said the county had 26 new cases three weeks ago, 43 two weeks ago and 57 new cases last week. The low point this summer was nine cases in a week.
“Yeah, unfortunately since we kind of bottomed out there where things were looking great,” Ebel said. “But it’s creeping back up again. We saw the first increase come after the Fourth of July, like four or five days after the Fourth of July, where everybody was out.”
He said people also stopped wearing masks around that time even if they weren’t vaccinated which provided the opportunity for the virus to spread. Ebel said that trend has continued the past few weeks as people gather for weekend events.
County emergency management agency director Jon Kochis said the Delta variant of COVID-19 is pushing the numbers up.
Ebel said part of the problem stems from only about 50% of the county population being vaccinated.
“That’s a lot of people that are largely not taking any precautions,” he said. “Not social distancing, wearing masks or unvaccinated. So it’s not surprising that that group of people would be at risk for getting COVID.”
Ebel said the unvaccinated are at “considerable risk” of contracting the virus. Therefore, he said the first thing to do is get vaccinated. Those under 12 not eligible for the vaccine should wear a mask and practice social distancing, Ebel said.
However, he said he doesn’t think there will be a state or local mask mandate.
The Lancaster Festival is ongoing this week. Ebel said any large event like that has the potential to cause case numbers to rise.
Like Ebel, Kochis said that more people need to be vaccinated. He also said those who have contracted COVID after being vaccinated are not afflicted as severely as those not vaccinated.
“I do agree with people that they have the right to make their own choices,” Kochis said. “But they’re going to also make a choice that is going to put themselves and their family members in harm’s way, and others that they’re around. I don’t understand that part. I’m not real sure why you wouldn’t want to at this point.”
Kochis also said he’s concerned that this year may mimic last year where case numbers started rising in the summer and continued to rise through the winter.