Cuyahoga County Issues New "Mask Advisory" To Avoid A Dark COVID-19 Winter

The mask advisory just means health officials are "strongly encouraging" wearing a mask in indoor, public spaces, but there is no official requirement. [Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock]
The mask advisory just means health officials are "strongly encouraging" wearing a mask in indoor, public spaces, but there is no official requirement. [Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock]

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish announced a "mask advisory" during a county board of health briefing Wednesday. 

The advisory "strongly encourages" people to wear masks inside in public places. There won't, however, be any fines or criminal actions if people don't wear them. But there will still be consequences to not wearing masks, Budish said.

“People will get sick, and some of them will die,” Budish said.

Public health and government officials are not issuing mask requirements because the state legislature has signaled they will put a stop to any new health orders after the passage of SB 22

But Budish and Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH) officials said they are appealing to people to wear masks and get vaccinated because COVID-19 cases are increasing at a steep rate.

There's been a 600 percent increase from where cases were in July, and the trajectory shows the county could see more than 1,000 cases per day as early as next week.

"Last year, we saw over 1,000 cases per day being reported, that was back in November and December of 2020. Now we're on pace to have that happen much earlier," said Jana Rush, the county's director of Epidemiology, Surveillance & Informatics.

That means this winter will likely get far worse than last year because the delta variant is far more contagious, fewer people are masking and working from home, and we aren't in a lockdown, Rush said.

"There are a number of things now that make our risks significantly higher going into the fall, and we don’t want to have a very, very dark winter," Health Commissioner Terry Allan said. "We want to have a better outlook by engaging people and appealing to them now to do the right thing."

Budish said people should wear masks to help those around him, particularly children.

“I know masks are annoying, trust me,” Budish said. "But wearing masks is a small price to pay to protect our children, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.”

COVID-19 cases are increasing in schools in particular, and children are getting sicker than they were at the beginning of the pandemic, said Patti DePompei, the president of University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children. 

"We are now experiencing a sharp rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases, primarily driven by the delta variant," DePompei said. "We also have increased respiratory illnesses such as RSV, a sharp increase in children requiring admission for mental health needs, and with this rise in volume, staffing challenges."

For a long time, it was thought COVID-19 didn't affect children, but now 25 percent of cases are in kids. Cases are increasing at nearly twice the rate among school-age kids compared to the rest of the population, DePompei said

Eight children under the age of 17 in Ohio have died of COVID-19. 

Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan addresses the media and the public during a briefing streamed on YouTube Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2021. [Cuyahoga County]

If a person won't mask for themselves and other adults, they should think of the children who could be hurt if the virus continues its current trajectory,  Allan said.

Vaccination is also an important way to stop COVID-19 spread, and health officials are still encouraging people to get the vaccine. 

Unvaccinated people are 40 times more likely to have a severe outcome if they become infected, Rush said. 

Currently, 54 percent of all residents, 33 percent of African Americans and 44 percent of the Hispanic population in the county are fully vaccinated, according to CCBH data.

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