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Of course, coronavirus cases are increasing in some places. There is zero surprise in that, despite the way some headlines might be written to suggest otherwise. And in Holmes County, which thrives on Amish-themed tourism, cases have increased since “reopening” as well. Local officials are not pinning this on the return of tourism, however. From the New Philadelphia Times Reporter:

The numbers say one thing. Holmes County officials are saying another.

The Ohio Department of Health reports 197 confirmed coronavirus cases in Holmes County as of Monday — up from 32 in early June. State Department of Health data shows three deaths and nine hospitalizations from COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon.

The uptick in Holmes County began in early May, as the state began to reopen and more tourists made their way to Amish Country.

However, county officials believe the increase may be due to more people being tested for coronavirus, not the increasing number of people coming into the area.

“I don’t know if they’ve proven anybody has brought (the virus) in,” Holmes County Commissioner Rob Ault said. “There is a spike all over the country. It could be due to more testing.”

Holmes County Health Commissioner Michael Derr said the county is experiencing community spread of the coronavirus, something that’s hard to pinpoint.

Let me just pause to call out this reporter’s opening line. The numbers don’t “say one thing” and officials say another. The numbers this writer offers simply register an increase in cases. The officials are not saying that’s not true. They’re talking about causes.

The writer is assuming the increase is due to tourism. More accurate would be for him to say “I, the author of this article, say one thing. Officials say another.” But instead he says it’s “the numbers” saying it, as if to suggest the officials offering their own explanation as to the cause of the numbers means they are arguing against the data itself.

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Watch for buggies. And also stealth editorializing

But the numbers are just the numbers. They don’t contain a reason within them, at least not the ones this writer offers.

Yet this writer is suggesting that the cause is obvious. Clearly it’s tourism that’s to blame. How does he know? Because the numbers went up! And tourists came back at the same time! So one fully explains the other, there cannot be any other reason.

The spread of infectious disease is influenced by a range of factors. And then if you’re talking about the activity of counting positive cases – a separate thing from the actual spread of the disease – that incorporates even more factors (testing rate and reliability being two).

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Everyone is assigning explanations for increases in positive cases  – including media workers like editors and reporters.

And as we continue reading the article, we have the officials offering their own explanation, an alternative to the “tourism is to blame” angle.

Of course, tourism could be a factor. I would be surprised if it wasn’t, at least to a degree. But without direct proof of how much one or another cause is affecting things, it is up to the reader to discern what he or she believes.

Why are coronavirus cases increasing in Holmes County? 

Health Commissioner Derr, I think wisely, says that it is difficult to pinpoint community spread. But he does suggest his own take, offering two causes – the expected increased interaction between people, and more testing:

“Part of the reason we’re seeing an increase is twofold,” Derr said. “No. 1 is we’re moving around a lot more, and that is because everything is opening back up. We know by movement people are going to create more opportunities for infection through exposure. People are getting back to the gyms, going to get their hair cut, going out to eat; there are a lot of different things happening where they are exposing themselves more.

“The second part of it is we’re testing a lot more in the state, and we’ve also tested a lot more locally,” Derr continued. “The hard part is we can’t get super accurate numbers on how many tests we’ve performed because we’re seeing a lot of people going to a wide variety of places to get tested. We’re only made aware of positive tests.”

Holmes County Commissioner Rob Ault disputes that increased cases is directly linked to tourists bringing it in:

“I don’t know if they’ve proven anybody has brought (the virus) in,” Holmes County Commissioner Rob Ault said. “There is a spike all over the country. It could be due to more testing.”

Commissioner Joe Miller suggests something similar:

Miller doesn’t see the increase in positive tests as a bad sign.

“I talked with a lot of people and the cases are very mild,” Miller said. “I think there’s more people being tested, and that’s why our numbers are higher.”

Officials are of course advising all the common-sense precautions to prevent spread, which I’ll refrain from repeating here since we’ve all heard them 500 times by now.

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People eager to visit

Connected to the easily-predictable increases in coronavirus cases, is another easily-predictable thing – the growing noise to shut down economies again. Kent Miller, who is involved in the area hotel business, says that can’t happen:

“With the amount of people coming into our area, I was fully prepared to see more cases but I don’t think the numbers are concerning, especially since there are no runs on the hospitals,” he said, “and we can’t shut the economy down again.”

Miller noted that his business, like many others in the area, relies on tourism.

“Our area is very fortunate to see a nice bump in leisure travelers, overnight and day-trippers that are coming to Holmes County,” Miller said. “Not all tourism areas in our country are seeing an uptick.”

Commissioner Miller was surprised how quickly tourists returned:

“I am amazed at how fast the people came back to town,” Miller said. “I thought older people might stay away, but there are older people, younger people, all kinds of people.

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Why would other areas not be experiencing the tourism uptick, according to Kent Miller, and Holmes County is? Could it be that the typical visitor to Amish country is less likely to be swayed into staying at home?

Every activity has its own risk (even “non-activity”). In any case, people at this point are generally quite aware of the degree of risk this virus presents, and weighing that against other factors, are choosing to return to more active and engaged lives, which includes visiting Amish communities.

Public health suffers from shutdown too

Officials present themselves and the county as taking a responsible approach to the matter. Derr says businesses are doing well adhering to the Responsible Restart Ohio guidelines.

They are offering extra sanitizer stations, more increased cleaning, reduced seating, and so on. And in further defense of the county, Health Commissioner Derr points to their high public health rankings:

Derr added that last year, Holmes County ranked No. 2 in county health rankings in the state public health assessment.

“We know how to take care of our own community. We do it on a shoestring budget as one of the poorest funded public health departments in the state, yet we’re one of the healthiest communities. We know how to take care of our community with our limited resources.”

Finally, he adds that shutdown has its own perils:

“There are a lot of secondary effects,” he continued. “Public health encounters so many different factors, and so many different things account for how healthy we are. Mass isolation and shutdowns is as poor on public health as the virus is. We’re here to work with our community and make sure we’re as healthy as possible.”

These are all non-Amish business and government officials speaking. These voices quoted in this piece all have an interest, of course, in keeping tourists visiting the county.

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But that doesn’t mean their claims aren’t true. Their explanations are certainly worth considering.

It’s good, to some degree, to know “the numbers”. But the numbers, just by virtue of their increase, don’t provide any ironclad argument as to the cause of the increase. That requires further analysis.

The most important point here is that there is of course risk from coronavirus. But it’s just one of many, many, many risks of living. The vast majority of those risks we don’t consciously think about every day, because they are not large enough to matter, or because we have adapted our behaviors to account for them. People will adapt to coronavirus, as they do to other risks, provided they have a more-or-less clear understanding, and if given the chance to do so.


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