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Akron Limits Private Gatherings To 6, With Masks Required

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan in a virtual meeting with members of the Ohio Mayors Alliance earlier this year. [Zoom]

Updated: 10:50 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020

Akron City Council passed legislation Monday night temporarily limiting the size of private gatherings in the city and mandating face coverings at those gatherings for 30 the next days, a proposal introduced earlier in the day by Mayor Dan Horrigan.

The measure passed 9-3, with one abstention.

Conversations with hospitals about rationing care, the mayor said, prompted him to introduce the legislation, which limits private gatherings to six guests. Horrigan addressed Akron City Council’s Health and Social Service Committee Monday afternoon.

“We need to be able to get through these next 30 days and not overwhelm these hospitals so they have to do things like ration care,” he said. “This is a radical step but we need to be able to get a handle on this to specifically to not overwhelm the hospitals so they can provide that critical care to people that need it.”

Enforcement of the new rules will be complaint-driven through Akron Police and the Summit County Health Department, with homeowners or tenants subject to a civil fine of $250 for each violation. The order will be reevaluated after 30 days.

The committee sent the legislation on to the full city council with a 4-1 vote.

“As mayor, my highest responsibility is to protect the safety and wellbeing of the citizens of Akron,” Horrigan told the committee, which met via Zoom. “Limiting private gatherings will help keep Akron businesses open, help get our kids back into the classroom sooner, and most importantly, save lives. Reducing contact with immediate family and friends is an enormous sacrifice for many of us, but we cannot let our guard down even around those we know and love. While it may feel safe, the data shows that COVID is spreading rapidly during family and social gatherings.”

Horrigan’s proposal follows the recent announcement by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine that hospitals across Ohio are reaching capacity and that the Ohio Department of Health will consider additional business shutdowns if conditions do not improve.

Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda told the committee that contact tracing indicates Halloween activities are partly responsible for the current spike in cases.

“We are experiencing a surge of COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. The 7-day average for daily cases was 33.7 on Oct. 1, 97.1 on Nov. 1, and 245.4 on Nov. 14,” Skoda said in a press release. “Now is the time for all residents to wear a mask and not gather with people outside of your household. Whenever possible, meet outside or in a well ventilated area.  You may save the life of someone you love.”

Dr. Cliff Deveny, president and CEO of Summa Health, said the hospital system was averaging about 20 coronavirus admissions per week three weeks ago, but is now seeing 15 to 20 new admissions each day. 

He said Summa Health's ICU is at 90 percent capacity and the hospitals are full.

“We've opened three extra units at the Akron city campus and one at the Barberton campus and we're on the verge of looking at opening a fifth unit at the Barberton campus if we can find enough people to work,” Deveny said.

Akron General Hospital President Brian Harte said, "Our world is on fire and we are near the edge.”

Over the weekend, more than 75 Northeast Ohio physicians placed a full-page ad in the Akron Beacon Journal, an open letter imploring people to wear masks and pleading for the public’s help and cooperation in beating back the coronavirus. Deveny joined the heads of five other Northeast Ohio hospital systems in an open letter with the same message printed in a full-page ad in The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

“Our COVID-19 situation in Northeast Ohio is out of control,” they wrote. “Physicians and caregivers who are needed to see COVID-19 patients are in short supply. If community spread of the virus remains unchecked, there may soon not be enough health care professionals to take care of you and your families.”

Glenn Forbes is supervising producer of newscasts at Ideastream Public Media.