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Cleveland To Ramp Up Enforcement, Consider New Rules If County Goes Purple

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said the city will ramp up enforcement of COVID-19 rules, such as masking and social distancing, at restaurants and bars this weekend. [City of Cleveland]
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson addresses health department updates alongside Director of Human Resources Nycole West and Office of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunities for Youth and Young Adults Chief Tracy Martin Thompson on Oct. 29, 2020. [City of Cleveland]

Cleveland’s health department may implement new rules or restrictions if Cuyahoga County reaches a Level 4 COVID-19 emergency soon, Mayor Frank Jackson said in a press conference Thursday.

Jackson stopped short, however, of stating he would issue a shutdown order for the city.

Cuyahoga County is currently at Level 3 in the state's public health advisory system. Level 4, or the “purple” category, indicates severe COVID-19 exposure and spread in a county. This is the highest level. If reached, people would be asked to only leave their homes for essential services and supplies.

Officials from the city’s health and public safety departments will ramp up enforcement of COVID-19 rules, such as masking and social distancing, at restaurants and bars, this weekend, said Interim Health Director Brian Kimball.

To enforce the rules in residential areas, Jackson said if the city is made aware of a large gathering, such as a block party or house party, police officers go out to the location and ask them to comply with the guidelines. So far, most people have been cooperative, he said.

“We behave as if we’re in purple, meaning that we believe there’s certain things you have to do rather you’re in level 1, 2, 3 or 4 … and that message is around, stay at home unless you do have to go out, keep social distance if you do have to go out, wear your mask and wash your hands often,” he said. 

The city already encourages residents to avoid nonessential trips, Jackson said.

The Ohio Department of Health updates the status of counties in the state each Thursday. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine indicated Thursday that the level of spread of the virus in Cuyahoga County is growing at an alarming rate, but the county has not yet tipped into level 4, purple. The decision to move from one level to the other is based on several indicators including the amount of spread of the coronavirus in a community and if the hospital admissions and intensive care unit use is very high, among others.

DeWine is calling on each community to come together and form a COVID-19 Defense Team, made up of local leaders such as mayors, health commissioners and hospital representatives to assess and understand their situation and focus on what steps to take in their community. These groups should also explain to their locality what’s going on and what needs to happen next, he said.

If the county is declared level 4, Jackson said officials will determine whether any additional measures need to be put in place, or if stricter enforcement of current measures is the best approach.

Officials will also look to the state for additional guidance, Jackson said.

The city is not considering any stay-at-home orders or business closures at this point, he added.

“If you’re asking us if we’re gonna shut down the city right now, I cannot tell you that’s going to be the case,” Jackson said.

 Families who live in different households should also maintain social distancing and wear face coverings if they gather together, Kimball said.

“Change your behavior, how you fellowship, how you socialize with your friends and your family,” Kimball said. “This will help reduce those number of cases that are identified coming from these small gatherings.”

Contact tracing shows while some of the city's cases are coming from in-person schooling and workplaces, the majority of outbreaks – meaning multiple cases being traced to the same event – are coming from gatherings such as funerals, weddings, and family reunions, Kimball said.

The fact that the spread seems to be occurring more in social gatherings rather than in schools and businesses may inform future actions or restrictions the city may take, Jackson said.

“As we’re looking at going forward and we’re considering what actions to take if we wound up going purple, then we’ll have to consider that basic fact,” Jackson said.

The city is working with community partners to increase COVID-19 testing in vulnerable populations over the next month, Kimball said.

The mayor is also backing the creation of a new department to focus on health disparities, Jackson said.

If new legislation is approved by the city council, the city would create a new division to focus on health equity and social justice and hire a commissioner to oversee the new department, he said.

The health department was recently put under the jurisdiction of the Office of Prevention, Intervention, and Opportunities for Youth and Young Adults, which was created in 2017 to improve the quality of life for children in impoverished neighborhoods.

The health department was reorganized to better focus on addressing issues such as racism, crime, and violence as public health crises, Jackson said.

If the legislation is approved, the department would gather and examine data on health inequities in the city, and figure out steps to take to improve outcomes, said Chief Tracy Martin Thompson, who heads up the youth violence prevention office.


Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.