Hamilton County commissioners declared a state of emergency on Tuesday because a rapid increase of COVID-19 mounting in Hamilton County.
The county's rate of positive cases per 100K people tripled in the last three weeks and ranks among the 10 most infectious county rates in the state, according to Ohio Department of Health data.
The state of emergency declaration, approved in a resolution by County Commission President Stephane Summerow Dumas, allows staff to spend up to $100,000 (twice current allowances) on bids for tools like rapid COVID-19 tests. It also eases Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement processes for county staff, according to County Administrator Jeff Alutto.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 positive patients in the region's 6 hospitals hit a record high of 981 Tuesday, according to The Health Collaborative.
Before Christmas, the owner of Black Owned, a streetwear company based downtown, saw his holiday sales surge end as a sign of things to come.
"It's like 'not again,'" said Means Cameron, owner of Black Owned in December.
So many of his employees tested positive for COVID-19 that Cameron closed his shop and only accepted online orders for one week.
"Holiday traffic did us in," he posted on Instagram.
That same week, Hamilton County saw a surge in positive cases. It had the 68th highest rate in Ohio on December 23rd, according to state data. One day before New Year's Eve, the county ranked 15.
"I have an obligation to protect all of my employees to keep them safe," Cameron said in December. "So, obviously I want to focus on profits, but I also have to focus on health."
With 2,094 cases per 100K people, Hamilton County currently holds Ohio's eighth-highest rate. Only counties in northeastern Ohio rank higher.
The Health Collaborative said all but three zip codes within Hamilton County are hot spots and health leaders are desperate to turn the tide.
"I think that there may be an oversell about how benign Omicron is," Dr. Richard Lofgren, CEO of UC Health said during a press conference last week. "I do get concerned that the greater community is not aware about how we can overwhelm or potentially overwhelm our health care system so that not only COVID care and non-COVID care can be compromised."
The Hamilton County commissioners' emergency declaration covers the next 60 days and will not take away funding or focus from existing strategies like the 513 Relief Center that helps people struggling to pay utilities and rent, Summerow Dumas said.
"We all have a responsibility to make sure you communicate to your neighbors, your friends where you work about how much of an emergency this is," she said.
It is why Black Owned re-opened with new rules: all employees and guests must wear masks inside the store, Cameron said. Guests must sanitize upon entry. The story has a limit of four shoppers at a time. Finally, employees are required to be tested every 14 days.
The Ohio Department of Health is also pushing new flow chart guidance for people regardless of vaccination status to follow and perhaps slow the pandemic's fastest spread yet.