Recent samples from the Bryan wastewater treatment plant confirm what county Health Commissioner Jim Watkins already knows — there’s been “a significant jump” in the number of local COVID-19 cases recently.

Williams County has seen 208 new COVID cases in the past month and nearly 100 new cases from April 12-19. The increase has caused the county to jump to 18th highest of 88 counties in the state for cases per 100,000 population.

Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers is reporting a spike in cases, from zero in the first week of April to 15 positive COVID patients in the past week, including three admittances and one patient transferred out due to the severity of the illness.

“We currently have two COVID-19-positive inpatients,” said Chad D. Tinkel, CHWC president and CEO, noting that from Feb. 26 to April 3, CHWC had zero COVID-19-positive inpatients.

Tinkel and Watkins both noted the increase seems to come on the heels of spring break, when travel increased, possibly causing a jump in transmissions.

And samples collected from the Bryan wastewater plant April 11 — the most recent numbers released by the Ohio Department of Health — indicate “substantially increasing levels” (up 112% since March 31) of viral gene copies of COVID at the plant.

It’s a trend that both Watkins and plant supervisor Wes Wygant expect to continue.

“We’re seeing a massive increase in cases from where we were,” Watkins said.

“I would say most likely in the next samples reported, we’ll see the same trajectory upward,” Wygant said Tuesday.

The wastewater plant has been testing for viral gene copies of COVID since the fall of 2020, when it joined the Ohio Coronavirus Wastewater Monitoring Network. The network collects and studies wastewater samples to look for the presence of COVID-19 gene copies and/or fragments of the virus that cause the disease.

“It’s a useful tool ... it gives a heads-up to the health department and to health care facilities of what’s coming,” Wygant said, adding the plant collects samples twice a week — Monday and Thursday — and sends them to the state health department for testing.

“The bottom line is that the science is showing that we are not over with (COVID-19),” Wygant added.

The increase in cases comes as the county’s overall vaccination rate has stalled for the past week at about 30%. Watkins said the health department is shooting for 70%.

“The older population was very much participants, but the younger population is not, and that’s kind of what we expected,” Watkins said. In his experience, young people tend to have milder cases, but are still passing the virus on to others, including vulnerable older people, “and that’s what keeps (COVID) going,” he said.

“With vaccinations available, there’s really no reason for this situation to continue. It’s not a supply issue anymore, it’s a demand issue. Appointment are going unfilled. Younger people are not getting vaccinated; They think it’s not affecting them, but we cannot afford having them unvaccinated,” Watkins said.

“Until we can get vaccination rates higher, this trend will continue,” he added.

And while the county has not seen COVID variants yet, Watkins warned that they can be expected to hit the county at some time in the future, and the effect, without widespread local vaccinations, “will hit us harder.”

In concert with the state, the county health department has held weekly vaccination clinics for specific age groups and county school staff since late January.

But with limited demand, no vaccination clinics are scheduled for the immediate future, Watkins said. However, those who want to get vaccinated at no cost can do so at several sites in the county. Everyone age 16 and older is encouraged to get vaccinated.

To sign up for vaccination through the county health department, log onto bit.ly/WCVaccine to access the questionnaire and book the day and time you’d like to take the vaccine.

Parkview Physicians Group-Ohio offers vaccination appointments by calling 419-636-4517; Leave a message and you will be contacted when appointments are available.

Klingers Pharmacy, 102 W. Jackson St., West Unity, 419-924-2444, and the Bryan Community Health Center (BCHC) both are offering vaccines. Appointments at the BCHC are available by calling 419-567-2138 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The vaccines are free of charge and the health center will bill insurance for the administration of the shot. Those without insurance or the ability to pay are still eligible to receive the vaccine at no charge, BCHC officials say.

In addition, Watkins said the county health staff is working on bringing vaccination clinics to some of the larger area businesses, with plans to also stage vaccination clinics at area schools.

“We’re reaching out to industries and we’ll be doing (vaccination clinics) there real soon. And we’re going to be doing schools as well. You can’t make it any more convenient than that.

“We’re willing to do anything we can to get people vaccinated,” Watkins said.

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