Mercer County doctor concerned about school outbreaks amid lack of mask requirements

MERCER COUNTY — Mercer Health has seen an increase of COVID-19 cases among both adults and children at its emergency room at Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater, according to the health group.

The increase in cases have happened over the last three to four weeks and has pushed the health group’s testing numbers up 500 percent.

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Dr. Craig Dues, an emergency room physician at Mercer Health, said the positivity rates for its COVID-19 tests has jumped from 2.9 percent in June to 27 percent now.

Dues concerns over the Delta variant also center around the decision for many Mercer County school districts to not require students to wear masks at school.

“There could be an outbreak and it could ravage our community rapidly,” Dues said, also urging people to get the shot if they haven’t already and can. “If you aren’t eligible do everything you can…to prevent any additional spread throughout our schools.”

Mercer and Auglaize County have two of the highest county wide test positivity rates in the Miami Valley. Mercer County has an 11.2 percent positivity rate and Auglaize County has a rate of 13.9 percent. Several other counties in the Miami Valley, including Miami, Darke, Greene, Shelby, Preble and Montgomery, have positivity rates above 10 percent.

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Dues said he is concerned if there is an outbreak that stems from schools that it could potentially quickly overwhelm hospital capacity in more rural areas like the one Mercer Health serves.

The Mercer County Health District said it continues to see a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and August case count about halfway through the month is the highest cases reported per month since April.

“While the recent rise in COVID-19 cases alone may not be extremely alarming, hospitalizations of Mercer County residents have also increased. The current number of Mercer County residents hospitalized with COVID-19 is the highest since May of this year,” Mercer County Health District said in a statement.

For context, during the fall/winter peak of the pandemic, Mercer County reported 1,116 cases in November and 635 cases in December before seeing cases decline for the first half of the year.