For two weeks now, Hamilton County has been designated red on Ohio’s coronavirus advisory map. The second highest of the state’s public emergency levels, we’ve all been told that we need to be doing better at wearing masks and social distancing. But how does this affect you and your family, as well as the county?

What does it mean when the county goes Red?

According to the Ohio Department of Health, Red counties are said to be in a Level 3 Public Emergency, with very high exposure and spread, and all in the county are advised to limit activities as much as possible. But what does this mean?

While the color map does a good job of explaining the threat level to residents, the factors that lead to that color are more complicated. The state looks at seven indicators each week, including if there have been more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over the most recent two weeks and if the new cases trajectory has increased over a five-day period. For each indicator that is met, a county earns a point. The points are then added up: 0-1 points for yellow, 2-3 for orange, 4-5 for red and 6-7 for purple.

Why did it go Red?

The week of Oct. 1, which is when Hamilton County was designated Red again, the county had met four of the indicators: more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents, an increased percentage of non-congregate cases in the county, an increased trajectory of outpatient visits for suspected COVID-19 cases and an increased hospitalization trajectory.

What happens to a county when it becomes Red?

For one, masks in public spaces are no longer optional. Residents are also asked to decrease their in-person interaction with others, consider necessary travel only and limit attending gatherings of any number.

Does anything else close or change?

While the state does mandate masks in Level 3 counties, it does not mandate any closures or stay-at-home orders. However, many businesses, organizations and institutions, such as schools, have created their own policies for adapting behavior while the county is Red. The Oak Hills School District, for example, previously had students coming in every day. This week, it switched to two days in-person and remote learning the other three days.

Cincinnati Public Schools, on the other hand, started in-person learning for the first time this school year this week. However, this switch to blended learning was supposed to happen the week before and was delayed because of the Red designation. Each school is different, so parents will need to be aware that policies could change at any moment.

How do we move out of Red?

For a county to be downgraded to orange, the county must drop below 100 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period in addition to only meeting 2-3 indicators. Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman expects the county to remain red for at least another week as the county had more than 100 cases per 100,000 last week.