CINCINNATI – As Cincinnati prepares for a busy weekend downtown, local health officials are reminding residents and visitors of the importance of wearing a mask to protect against a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County.
What do you want to know
- The CDC has changed the community spread level in Cincinnati to ‘high’
- The basis for the rating change stems from a combination of three COVID-related factors: new hospital admissions, number of intensive care cases and total number of new cases reported
- Local health experts say the number should remind people to wear masks when in public places or on public transport
- Masks don’t need to be worn at large outdoor events, experts say, but they should stay home if they feel unwell
Hamilton County Public Health alerted the public on Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified Hamilton County as having a “high” COVID-19 community spread.
The CDC looked at the combination of three measures to determine the COVID-19 community level:
- New COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the past seven days
- The percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients
- The total number of new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population over the past seven days.
Due to the new CDC rating, Hamilton County Public Health has issued a series of recommendations, including wearing a properly fitting mask indoors in public and on public transportation.
They also stressed the importance of getting tested for COVID, keeping up to date on vaccinations, and staying home if you’re not feeling well.
“The big change with the classification for us is that the CDC is recommending that when you’re in indoor public places, you start wearing your mask again,” said Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman.
“If you wake up tomorrow and you have sniffles or a cough, that’s new, we ask that you don’t dismiss it,” he added. “Be aware that you may have COVID-19 or another respiratory condition, and stay home so you don’t make others sick.”
Hamilton is one of more than 40 counties in Ohio to reach “high” level of transmission.
As of Friday morning, there were about 200 people in the regional hospital system with COVID-19. said Kesterman. There are approximately 25 COVID patients in intensive care units (ICUs) across the network.
To put this in historical perspective, last January and February when the omicron variant first made its way into greater Cincinnati, the county had as many as 1,000 hospitalizations and 250 people in intensive care units across the system.
These numbers may not seem high, but they show the spread is increasing, said Dr. Dustin Calhoun, director of emergency management at UC Health. He is also an associate professor of emergency medicine at UC College of Medicine.
Calhoun called the increased level “pretty inevitable” after seeing the data trend upwards in recent weeks.
Hamilton County had been at the “low” (or “green”) level for some time, Calhoun said. That’s when the restrictions started to lift and the pressure on masks and social distancing naturally lessened. But the number of cases has steadily increased in recent weeks, with Hamilton County moving to “medium” (or “yellow”) spread last week.
“To see him progress through the ‘yellow’ and climb into the ‘high’ quite quickly was certainly concerning,” said Calhoun, who has worked on several regional efforts to combat the spread of COVID, including testing and vaccination. .
Although COVID deaths are still in the “area of some of the worst flu weeks we’ve had every year,” Calhoun said, he thinks people have developed a “complacency about the virus.”
The numbers aren’t reported as much, Calhoun said. People are not being tested, or they are testing at home and not reporting the data. He thinks this CDC warning is powerful because it’s based on numbers reported by health care providers.
“We’ve all been dealing with the pandemic for a while, so people have a higher bar for how bad things are to worry about,” Calhoun said. “So the positive that comes out of hitting that threshold is that we’re going back to the recommendations for indoor masking.”
On Friday, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners announced it would require employees and visitors to wear masks inside county-owned buildings. The move concerns everyone, regardless of their vaccination status.
Beyond that, council workers will now be required to wear masks in the field when in contact with colleagues, clients, customers and residents.
Both policy updates go into effect Monday, July 25.
Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval told Spectrum News that the city will continue to “monitor the situation to determine any necessary policy updates.”
“As COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates increase, we must continue to be vigilant and exercise good judgment and precautions – such as vaccinations, boosters and mask-wearing, especially if you’re indoors and you can’t social distance,” he said.
As of Friday afternoon, neither the City of Cincinnati nor any local municipal government made an announcement about mask mandates or other COVID-related changes Friday afternoon. But the county health department has offered guidance to residents.
Health officials have informed people with high risk for serious illness to consider take extra precautions, such as social distancing. If possible, they advised those at risk to talk to their doctor to come up with a plan that works best for them.
News of the CDC’s updated memo comes as Cincinnati and Hamilton County are in the midst of one of the biggest tourist weeks of the year.
Hundreds of visitors are in town for Black Tech Week, FC Cincinnati hosts Nashville SC on Saturday and the Cincinnati Reds kick off a 10-game homestand Friday night with the start of a weekend series with the St. Louis, who have a fan base that travels well.
Most likely the biggest event is the Cincinnati Music Festival, which kicked off Thursday night. Tens of thousands of people would be in town for three days of concerts, art exhibitions and food events.
However, most of these events take place outdoors. That’s a good thing, according to Kesterman and Calhoun.
While it’s possible to spread COVID-19 outdoors, the risk is much lower, Kesterman said. His department hasn’t noticed a significant connection to the spread of COVID and outdoor gatherings, even larger events like the Taste of Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Music Festival organizers plan to “follow (Hamilton County Health’s) lead and recommendations” for COVID safeguards over the weekend.
“If you’re going to an outdoor event and you’re more comfortable wearing a mask, we definitely recommend you do that,” Kesterman said. “Unless you’re not feeling well, we say you can go and enjoy the event.”
Residents can find more information about testing sites and home kits on the Site “Test and protect Cincy”.