About 70 percent of Ohioans are living in a county with increased levels of COVID-19 exposure and spread, according to the state’s Public Health Advisory System.

While a few counties have receded from “red” status (“very high exposure and spread”), the system — based on a series of inputs like infection rates, emergency room and outpatient health visits — shows a virus slowly making its way into Ohio’s rural counties.

More than an abrupt boiling over, the PHAS depicts Ohio as a pot, gradually rising to a simmer.

“We just can’t seem to get the number of new cases down,” Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday. “Really, what you’re seeing is the spread of the virus over the state.”

Over the past week, the Ohio Department of Health has reported an average of about 1,000 residents newly infected per day and about 28 dying from those infections per day.

That’s about on par with early-July levels of spread. However, a newly resumed K-12 and college school year, a looming return of Big Ten football, and fall weather driving residents indoors could all swing the epidemic curves.

Nearly 144,000 Ohioans have contracted COVID-19, according to Sunday state data. Nearly 15,000 have been hospitalized with the disease, and 4,600 have died.

Nationally, about 7 million Americans have been infected as the death toll landed just shy of 200,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data accessed Sunday.

Ohio’s test positivity rate — the proportion of tests taken that return with positive results — continues to trend downward this week. As of Friday, it averaged out at 3%, well below July highs toward 6%.

The heaviest caseloads remain in Ohio’s most populous counties.

However, population adjusted data shows in the last two weeks, Ohio’s hardest hit counties are Putnam, Mercer, Athens, Harrison and Shelby.

State-by-state data from The New York Times shows Ohio is, comparatively, faring well. It has avoided categorization as a hotspot state to date.

At Ohio State University, more than 2,600 students have contracted COVID-19 between Aug. 14 and Sept. 7, according to university data.

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Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.