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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Cuyahoga County Residents Advised to Wear Masks Again When Indoors

an image of cuyahoga county officials talking via virtual news conference
Cuyahoga County Board of Health
Officials from the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and Cleveland Clinic address the increased spread of COVID-19 in the area as well as new mask guidance during a press conference Wednesday, August 4, 2021.

The delta variant is behind the surge of cases in Cuyahoga County and health officials are now recommending residents wear masks in crowded indoor spaces, even if they are vaccinated.

They are also advising both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, staff and visitors to wear masks in schools, according to a news release from the county board of health.

The new guidance is in response to a significant increase of COVID-19 cases in the county, health officials said Wednesday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently designated the county as an area of “substantial transmission” of the virus.

The county is now seeing a case rate of 61 per 100,000 residents, which jumped from 39.5 just a week ago, County Executive Armond Budish said Wednesday during a news conference.

“The delta variant is in Cuyahoga County and spreading at a fast rate,” Budish said.

Budish will also sign an executive order requiring employees and visitors to wear masks in all county buildings regardless of vaccination status. He encouraged private businesses in the area to adopt mask requirements as well.

“Now, our numbers are going back up. People are getting sick, people are getting into the hospital. We’ve been doing this long enough to know that wearing a mask works,” Budish said.

Delta variant surging
County Health Commissioner Terry Allan said cases are increasing because of the highly contagious delta variant, which is now the predominant strain of the virus in the state.

“This highly transmissible delta variant, which accounts for the virus circulating in the community, is surging,” Allan said.

While vaccinated individuals are well protected against severe cases and death, emerging research shows they may be able to catch and spread the delta variant at the same rate as those who are unvaccinated. That’s why health officials are recommending everyone wear masks indoors, said Dr. Robert Wyllie, chief of medical operations at Cleveland Clinic.

“When people congregate in close places, particularly indoors, even vaccinated people can carry the infection. They’re usually not very ill, but they carry the same viral load as someone who has not been vaccinated,” Wyllie said.

The board of health’s new guidance applies to people in public spaces indoors “when near others.” Allan said this includes spaces in businesses, restaurants and other workplaces where people may congregate or be in close contact with each other.

“If you are alone somewhere in a workspace sitting in a cube or in an office all by yourself, there’s not a risk there. If you’re moving around in a place where you’re next to people – grocery stores, up and down aisles, and you’re in those crowded spaces, we want you to mask,” Allan said.

School guidance
While some schools in the county, such as Parma City Schools, already opted weeks ago not to require masks for employees and students, Allan is advising school districts to require masks for all – particularly in buildings where there are students under the age of 12 who cannot be vaccinated - given the increased spread in the community.

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is only authorized for people age 12 years and older, and the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are for individuals 18-years-old and up.

“What we’ve seen is a change with this surge, and how quickly it began to happen. That’s what’s different,” Allan said. “We’re encouraging them to seriously consider [the county’s new guidance.]”

Other Ohio counties, including Franklin and Summit, have released similar recommendations, strongly advising residents to wear masks indoors.

The changing picture with COVID-19 also prompted Kent State University officials to inform students today that masks are now required on campus.

Effective immediately, face coverings are required indoors for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, on all Kent State campuses, school officials said in a letter to students and parents. Face coverings also remain a requirement on all public transportation.

Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.