Time to mask up (again) in Lorain and Ashtabula counties, CDC says

[JURAJ VARGA / PIXABAY]

Two counties in Northeast Ohio are now red on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC) map which indicates high COVID-19 levels in those communities.

CDC officials recommend that people in Lorain and Ashtabula counties mask up when indoors in public, regardless of their vaccine status.

“When it goes to this color, the suggestion would be to or the recommendation is to go back to masking while indoors,” said Lorain County Health Commissioner Mark Adams.

In the last week in Lorain County, the number of new infections was 267.8 per 100,000 people — up more than 16%, according to CDC figures. Nearly 14% more people are getting tested and the share of tests that are coming back positive is also up at 14.19%.

In Ashtabula County, the infection rate was 240.64 per 100,000 people over the same period. That represents nearly 30% fewer new infections per 100,000 residents. The percent of tests that are positive is 15.75% and 10.74% more people got tested in the last week.

Masking is especially important to protect the vulnerable, Adams said.

“The big piece is that there are still a lot of people that can still be very much harmed,” he said. “Those with comorbidities, organ transplants, those that are elderly, weaker, infirm, immunocompromised. Those people can still be affected by it, even though they've gotten a vaccine, even if they've had it before.”

People who are high risk for severe disease or are immunocompromised should wear a mask and consider avoiding non-essential indoor activities in public, according to the CDC.

The agency also recommends that people at high risk have a plan to get tested and talk to their doctors about whether they are candidates for oral antivirals, PrEP and monoclonal antibodies.

If you have an underlying medical condition you should make a plan with your doctor to get the drugs before you’re infected to make sure you can get the appropriate drug quickly and avoid any counterindications with any current medications, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, during a press conference last week.

Vanderhoff said that the best way for people to gauge risk is to look at the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels, which take into account things like transmission but which also look at how many people are becoming severely ill and whether the virus is stressing the health care system.

Transmission of the virus is high in the majority of counties across the state, the CDC data show. But while the number of cases and hospitalizations in Ohio have begun to tick slightly up, deaths are still down.

In the past seven days, an average of 127.1 Ohioans have been hospitalized with the virus and there have been about 167 new infections per 100,000 residents, the data show. Some 40 people have died of the disease over the same period. The per capita death rate statewide is .3.

In Ashtabula and Lorain counties, fewer than 10 people have died of the virus in the last week.

That’s because many people enjoy immunity thanks to vaccines and previous infections, which also protect people from getting seriously ill, Vanderhoff said.

It is essential, he said, that people take steps to maintain that immunity like staying up to date on vaccines and boosters.

Is it time to get a booster shot?

Last week, the CDC also expanded guidelines for COVID-19 booster shot eligibility.

The agency now recommends that children ages 5 to 11 should get a booster five months after their initial Pfizer vaccine series. Additionally, the CDC strengthened its recommendation that those 12 and older who are immunocompromised and those 50 and older should get a second booster dose four months after their first.

Vaccination has lagged among children ages 5 through 11, leaving them vulnerable to disease, said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky.

“With over 18 million doses administered in this age group, we know that these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children who are protected,” she said in a media release. “I encourage parents to keep their children up to date with CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.”

As cases increase, it’s important that everyone be protected from the virus, Walensky said.

“Those 50 and older and those who are 12 and older and immunocompromised should get a second booster dose,” she added.

Check your county’s COVID-19 community level here. See the CDC’s full recommendations for action at all COVID-19 community levels here.

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