STEUBENVILLE — Jefferson County is seeing an increase in cases of COVID-19, and officials pointed to the delta variant as one of the reasons why.
The increase, the variant and vaccinations were discussed at Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Health, with the topics broached by Health Commissioner Andrew Henry and Medical Director Dr. Mark Kissinger.
Henry, during his monthly report to the board, said the county has seen “breakthrough cases” among the fully vaccinated, with 31 of such cases among the 162 new cases in the last two weeks, or roughly 19 percent.
He said of the eight people currently hospitalized with the virus in the county, two of them are vaccinated.
Despite the breakthroughs, he stressed the importance of people getting the vaccine and said there has been an uptick in the vaccination rate, with several age categories above 70 percent.
Overall, he said, 47 percent of county residents are vaccinated. The Ohio Department of Health’s website has the county listed at 40.8 percent, while the state rate is 50.6 percent.
The Ohio Department of Health does have the county’s rate higher than that of the surrounding counties.
Henry said schools are sharing their COVID-19 mitigation plans with the department and “continue to take COVID-19 seriously,” though he did note legislative action prevents the board from doing more than make recommendations.
A third dose of COVID-19 vaccines, he said, are now available to those with certain conditions that compromise the immune system that received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Kissinger keyed in on the delta variant, noting the county does not sequence the virus samples to detect the variant locally so the exact number of delta cases is not known and the estimates are based off of information from the state.
He said the variant, according to studies from Europe he has reviewed, is 2.5 times more contagious in those under the age of 50 and symptoms appear faster after infection than the original strain.
Kissinger also said that while data does show the vaccinated shed the delta variant at an equal amount as the unvaccinated, an overlooked aspect is it’s for a shorter period of time.
He did note, however, despite it being more infectious, the death rate in England remained low and the spike in cases came back down faster than previous waves of the virus.
While he said the vaccine makes one 40-50 percent less likely to contract the virus, antibodies from previous infection do also seem to be providing “a little bit of protection.”
“Clearly the vaccinations work,” he said.
The health department’s Facebook page, in its weekly update on Monday, posted there are currently no known reinfection cases in the county.
The challenge, he said, is “we don’t know who has what antibodies.”
Board President Dr. Patrick Macedonia commended Kissinger for providing “accurate information.”
During her report, Piko also noted an uptick in the vaccinations, pointing to increased turnout at some of the county’s recent clinics.
She also focused on another topic, overdoses, talking about attending drug court recently and sharing information about Naloxone kits.
She said the county recently ranked fifth in the state in overdoses.
Both public participants that spoke also addressed COVID.
Royal Mayo, after a dispute with Macedonia over a requirement to share his address, asked the board a series of questions about the variant, vaccinated spreading the virus, differing policies between schools and concerns over how the county goes forward keeping people safe.
Also speaking, being recognized by Macedonia, was Tina Cutone, a local physician who, pointing out she is vaccinated and still masking. She urged the board to take action on getting universal masking in schools in the county this school year.