TUSCARAWAS COUNTY, Ohio — Following the wave of new COVID-19 cases in late summer, health leaders in Tuscarawas County are reporting a significant rise in COVID-19 deaths.
Data from the health department shows that between early September and the first week of November, 75 people died from COVID-19 in Tuscarawas County, 15 of them in the past week.
“From the past six weeks, we’re definitely seeing higher COVID death rates than what we saw around this time last year and certainly even at its peak last year,” said Katie Seward, commissioner of the Tuscarawas County health department.
The increase comes as many other counties across Ohio are seeing a recent decline in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Also notable in this new data is that 28% of those who died from COVID-19 from September to the first week of November were fully vaccinated, while 72% of those who died were not.
“They range in age from 33 to 95 with an average age of 72,” Seward added. “And there is nothing that connects them all. The hard part is that I can’t find a common denominator between them.”
It is a county that still follows the national average when it comes to the percentage of the population vaccinated, with 55.85% of Ohio residents receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 42.34 % of those in Tuscarawas County.
“Vaccinated individuals remain at risk if the majority of your population is not vaccinated,” explains Seward. “The unvaccinated population will still transmit and allow spread and variants to take place. Every time a virus jumps from person to person, it changes a little bit. But when that happens, it changes and finds a way to survive. Every time he does that, he gets a little more robust.”
Almost every day, Seward scans the local newspaper and the obituaries for the faces of this deadly disease.
“It’s starting to become so much more common that we’re reading and asking the families of the individuals” [their loved one] wasn’t vaccinated and they were on the fence about it,” she said. “And they’re begging the public to do what they haven’t done.”
For Tracie Kenney, the new numbers mean a little more.
Almost exactly a year ago, her husband Harry was rushed to hospital in Dover, where he would spend the next few weeks before COVID-19 took his life.
Today she hears the sound of others, suspicious or outright against vaccination or wearing a mask.
“I’m like, why don’t you talk to someone who’s been on the other side because you might think a little differently,” she added.
Kenney hopes that sharing her own nightmare will shine a new light on others.
“[Harry] made sure several people who opposed the shot got it,” she said. “They have been vaccinated by Harry, so that makes me proud and I know he would be proud too.”
“We all want COVID-19 to be over, but unfortunately that’s not the reality of the situation,” Seward said.