Big events remain unmasked as COVID spreads.
With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Northeast Ohio rising to new daily records, there are few official restrictions to reduce the explosive spread of the omicron variant and high-risk events continue without the required masking.
State and local mask mandates that existed before the vaccine was available ended long before the current surge. The highly contagious Omicron variant is now spreading rapidly between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Cuyahoga County has become a national hotspot for the virus.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to stay safe and protect our loved ones as we are in the midst of a significant outbreak right now,” said Dr. Abhigit Duggal, vice president of critical care at the Cleveland Clinic.
Guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that everyone in high-transmission areas, such as Northeast Ohio, should wear a mask indoors in public and in outdoor settings with Many people. That includes the vaccinated, who, while at reduced risk of severe disease, now commonly contract and spread the virus.
“Since we have seen that omicron has a very high transmissibility rate, masking becomes one of the key things that we really need to use to interrupt the transmission of the virus,” said Duggal.
Playhouse Square requires skins and many companies have a mandate for employees.
But several large and potential “super spreader” events in the Cleveland area continue without the required masking, including Cavs games, Browns games, concerts and church services.
Citing the absence of a state or local mask mandate, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is leaving decisions on mask requirements to teams and event producers.
“We continue to strongly encourage all guests to wear a mask at all times at FieldHouse,” said a spokesperson, noting that all full-time and part-time employees are fully vaccinated and must wear masks while working.
The Cavs and Monsters recommend, but do not require, masquerading among fans in the crowded arena. However, due to an NBA mandate, masks are required for fans sitting close to the court and within 15 feet of benches to protect the health of the players.
Masks are also optional at Browns games and were rare among fans at Monday’s game, even as the team suffered an outbreak among its highly vaccinated roster.
“We remain in constant communication with our medical experts as we closely follow COVID-19 developments,” a Browns spokesperson said when asked if the team plans to change its mask policy.
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland announced this week that while it “strongly encourages” the wearing of masks in churches this Christmas, masks are not required among those attending services.
The only change to the guidelines that the church loosened in August is that ministers who distribute communion will now be mandated to wear a face mask.
A spokesman for the diocese said those who are ill, have significant risk factors or care for someone who is immunosuppressed or ill, as well as those with significant anxiety about contracting the coronavirus, are not required to attend mass.
Local doctors cite the lack of masking in crowded settings as a likely factor in the regional outbreak.
“If you’re in the middle of a big viral disease outbreak and we’re having these big meetings, that always increases the likelihood or chances that transmission will increase,” Duggal said. “So that definitely worries us.”
State health orders previously required social distancing, masking and capacity limits, and a curfew was established at this time last year.
The Ohio Legislature, through Senate Bill 22, prohibited Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and state health leaders from implementing such orders without the approval of legislators.
The measure left health orders to city or county officials and put the responsibility on companies to decide their own policies.
Although transmission is now significantly higher than at the start of Cuyahoga County’s previous mask mandate, a county spokesperson said Wednesday there was no immediate consideration of a new public health order requiring masks in crowded settings.
“We encourage citizens to wear masks. We require it in our buildings, ”said Cuyahoga County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan. “There is nothing written that goes beyond that.”
The city of Cleveland did not respond to a request for comment on any possible action by the city to curb the spread of the virus.
Without local government action requiring masking, and some companies are reluctant to set their own restrictions, health officials urged personal caution.
“It really is up to us as members of the community to make the right and smart decisions,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health.
Health leaders said everyone should wear masks, social distancing and avoid large gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reduce stress on overwhelmed local hospitals.
Devika Chowdhury – She is a professional news editor, writer, and blogger for the last 10 years. She is working with NewsGater as an off-beat news editor cum writer.