What explains Ohio's plateau in coronavirus cases despite reopening?

Despite increases in coronavirus cases in several states, Ohio has seen a plateau in new cases and even a decrease in hospitalizations.

Since the beginning of May, Ohio’s seven-day rolling average of new cases each day is down by 85 cases, the number of currently hospitalized patients has been cut by more than half and test results returning positive each day has dropped from 10.7 percent to 3.2 percent.

Also, a smaller percentage of positive cases have resulted in hospitalizations.

"We're not seeing any significant increase or reestablishment of a wave or a peak in Ohio and that’s great," Mark Cameron, an infectious disease researcher and professor in the school of medicine at Case Western Reserve University, told USA Today’s Cincinnati.com. "What that could mean is that people are still generally following the guidelines."

The encouraging news doesn’t mean Ohio residents can simply throw caution to the wind, however.

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Cameron told the outlet that people should continue to take precautions like social distancing and wearing a face mask.

Cincinnati.com reported “it’s impossible to say for sure what’s contributing to Ohio’s plateau or dip in coronavirus metrics,” and offered several possible reasons instead.

In Ohio, the number of administered tests more than doubled from April to May, from 104,247 to 255,030, the outlet wrote. Cameron said the heightened testing may be catching cases earlier, and self-isolation at home could prevent otherwise unknowingly transmitting the disease on to others.

Though the state’s testing hasn’t reached levels epidemiologists hold as an indication for a safe reopening, testing continues to expand.

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The outlet theorized that the state’s “rolling basis” for reopenings may have contributed to the plateau in new virus cases. Also, when Ohio’s non-essential retail stores were given the green light to reopen in mid-May, some remained shuttered.

Finally, a Google-analysis of cell phone location data revealed some mobility changes in Ohio residents. The sample showed people spent 40 percent less time at the office in May compared to January and February, the outlet wrote.

Traffic on Ohio roads dropped by almost half during the first week of the state’s stay-at-home order, with most recent data showing traffic is still down by 22 percent compared to last year.

“The data indicate, on whole, people were taking this very seriously,” Dr. Michael Oglesbee, director of the Ohio State University’s Infectious Diseases Institute, told the outlet.

Oglesbee says that the behavior change that has happened in Ohio was perhaps underestimated.