CINCINNATI, Ohio — As of Thursday, Hamilton County moved out of Ohio's level-three designation for the coronavirus public health emergency.   

Gov. Mike DeWine called the county a success story.

"It's good to see us going in the other direction for a change and I just hope we can continue it," said Mike Samet, of Hamilton County Public Health.

Less than a month ago, Hamilton County was trending toward the highest level of Ohio's public health emergency declaration, level four. Now the county is down to level two.

“I think that our drop in status here is a testament to the citizens of Hamilton County,” Samet said.

The number of new coronavirus cases in Hamilton County has been declining during the past several weeks. The number of cases per capita has been dropping as well. Samet said those are all promising signs for slowing the spread. 

“We’re also seeing our hospitalizations and our death rates go down," he said. "Those are both lagging indicators and those are really most encouraging because those really tell us that we are going in the right direction with COVID-19.”

Both Samet and the governor credit masks for turning the tide.

“I think we’re just to the point where people are realizing now that this is serious it’s going to be with us for a while," Samet said. "The tools that we have right now are masks and distance until we get a vaccine or a cure.”

Samet said Hamilton County has been seeing widespread mask compliance during the past several weeks. It was one of the first counties with a mandate, but just an hour north on I-75, Montgomery County, which has had a mask mandate for just as long is still in the red.

Hamilton County has more total cases than Montgomery County but Dan Suffoletto with Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health said it's the cases per capita that are holding the area back.

“People are still contracting COVID at a high rate compared to other counties in Ohio and that’s something that we’re concerned about,” he said.

As of Monday, Hamilton County reported about 94 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents. Montgomery County reports about 110.

"There's so many cases out there that inevitably there's going to be spreading," Suffoletto said.

According to Suffoletto, that's one of the main reasons why it's taking longer for Montgomery County to see results, although there has been a small decline in new cases during the past week.

"That’s in a very short period of time. It’s an over-seven-day rolling average so it’s a little bit too early to say what the long-term implications are going to be," Suffaletto said.

He said increased compliance with mask wearing and social distancing guidelines will speed up the process.

Even in counties that have moved onto the next level, though, it's difficult to see much of a difference outside the data.

"There’s still a statewide mask mandate on," Samet said. "We still have to practice the precautions and even when we hopefully very quickly go from orange down to yellow there will still be the precautions that we need to follow.”

He said state officials use those indicators to track the pandemic's spread across Ohio, but outside of a few school districts counting on those indicators to determine their reopening plans, not much changes from level to level.

For the most part, Suffoletto said, the state is relying on locals to exercise precautions regardless of what color their county is.

“If we do see a significant downward trend, that means the measures that are being taken are working so we still need to keep those measures up indefinitely until a vaccine or a treatment can become available,” he said.

While many Ohio counties have seen an improvement in their case numbers, public health officials warn rural counties are seeing spikes.

Officials warn that while case numbers may look relatively low in those counties, the per-capita case numbers are rising quickly, indicating significant community spread.