Daily COVID-19 cases tripled in Cuyahoga County from mid-June through mid-July, 8307 cases of COVID-19 in Cuyahoga County and 377 deaths

Cuyahoga County held another briefing on July 31, updating residents and the media about the COVID-19 in the county.

County Executive Armond Budish opened the briefing by complimenting the Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH) staff and again reiterated that people should wear masks to keep each other safe, “The evidence is clear, facemasks work,” said Budish.

He also urged people again to visit the county’s mask map, saying that in the past two weeks, nearly 1,600 reports have been filed and more than 28,000 people have visited the mask map. He said the goal of the map is to allow people to know in advance if specific businesses are following safety protocols or not. “It’s like a yelp or rotten tomatoes for COVID,” said Budish.

Between mid-June and mid-July the average number of daily cases in Cuyahoga County has tripled

If a report is that a business is not following the rules the county sends the business and its city a letter with the complaint, and Budish said that so far more than 2,000 letters have been sent out.

He went on to shift gears to discuss structural racism within the county, saying one of the biggest barriers for people of color to become successful and start a business is lack of access to capital. He then highlighted several programs within the county aimed to help small businesses, especially those that are minority owned.

Budish then moved on to address the upcoming election saying that it will go on, “despite some individuals stating that the election was going to be delayed. That is not going to happen.”

He said that the election will be different due to the pandemic, and urged people to make sure they are registered to vote by visiting Boe.cuyahogacounty.us and click on the voter registration link on the left-hand side of the page and make sure everything is correct and updated. He also said that people should apply for an absentee ballot to vote from home in order to keep each other safer during the pandemic.

CCBH is concerned about influenza and COVID circling in the fall along with other viruses.

“There is no evidence in Ohio that there has ever been widespread voter fraud by mail voting. No evidence of fraud,” Budish.

Budish said that as there is a shortage of poll workers, since in the past the majority of poll workers have been older adults who are more at-risk for contracting COVID-19.

He said he plans to put legislation before county council next week to allow county employees to be paid to work the polls this November, and said that the Cleveland Cavaliers organization has already declared election day a company holiday so employees can work the polls. He then urged that other companies within the county follow suit and encourage employees to do the same.

CCBH Health Commissioner Terry Allan then said that the state is seeing some of the highest numbers of COVID-19, and that transmission in the county remains high.

“We’re still in a very critical place in terms of overall trending in Cuyahoga County,” said Allan.

In Cuyahoga County, more than 8,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported and the CCBH has also tracked more than 9,500 close contacts. Allan went on to say over the month of July, the county averaged 120 cases per day, with more than 1,600 cases in the past couple weeks.

“We are in the midst and have been in a surge for some time,” said Allan. He said more than 80 percent of cases have been in non-congregate settings like child care, backyard and house parties, weddings and funerals. He said the number of young people infected with COVID-19 has also increased in the county and the state. Allan said that between mid-June and mid-July the average number of daily cases has tripled.

“Our July numbers far exceed anything we could have ever thought would have happened in March through June.”

He then went on to discuss the elevated health risks that schools will pose. He said that the CCBH has encouraged schools to start remotely in the fall and urged schools to not hold extracurricular activities like sports and band.

Allan said the CCBH realizes that the suggestions may be more difficult for underprivileged school districts made up of students of color, but he also said that the CCBH is concerned about the risk of COVID-19 to these same schools as their data suggests African-Americans are three times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their white counterparts.

“It’s important to recognize that when schools reconvene with in-person classroom or extracurricular activities we anticipate outbreaks of COVID,” said Allan. He said CCBH’s goal is to reduce risk.

Allan reiterated that these are suggestions and said that the CCBH’s decisions were difficult as we are living in unprecedented times.

He then moved on to discuss the fall flu season saying that CCBH is concerned about influenza and COVID circling in the fall along with other viruses.

He urged people to get the flu vaccine and also for parents to vaccinate their children and make sure they are up to date on other vaccines.

“We’re still in a very critical place in terms of overall trending in Cuyahoga County,” said Allan.

Dr. Heidi Gullett, medical director for CCBH, then shared that the county had 717 new cases this week, which was lower than last week’s 855 cases and lower than the county’s highest week to date, which was the week of July 13, at 919 new cases.

“While this is encouraging that we had fewer new cases this week the month of July has brought every single week with substantial increases in the number of cases over where we had been every week from March through June,” said Gullett. “Our July numbers far exceed anything we could have ever thought would have happened in March through June.”

Gullett said that means there’s a significant amount of spread in the community, meaning people are spreading the virus outside of the hospital from person-to-person. She said that there were seven deaths, but cautioned that death data isn’t always as up to date.

She said nearly 40 percent of COVID-19 cases in the county are in people ages 20 to 39-years-old.

Black people in Cuyahoga County are being more affected by COVID-19, as Gullett showed a disproportionately high number of Black people contracting the virus and needing hospitalization and/or intensive care unit care.

Gullett said that while people with pre-existing conditions are more susceptible to the virus, everyone can contract it and get very sick or even die without any pre-existing conditions. She then presented the ZIP code map and also talked about the Cuyahoga County hospital utilization beds, showing that about 82 percent of adult hospital beds are in use, about 81 percent of adult ICU beds are in use and about 37 percent of ventilators are in use currently in the county. Allan urged people to remember that the ZIP code map shows where people live within the community not where they contracted the disease, and the color on the map does not denote more or less risk.

Gullet then shared testing data that shows that the percent of positive cases in the county has gone up, and over the month of July the percent positive of cases ranged from 6.5 percent to 9 percent positive which Gullett said, “Reflects the fact that there is spread of COVID-19 happening in our community.” Last week there were just more than 22,000 tests performed by the three hospitals in Cuyahoga County.

She also said that the recommendations the CCBH offers are science based and “these aren’t recommendations that don’t apply to us.” She acknowledged, especially as a parent, that the recommendations are difficult for CCBH staff as well. “We are in them with you as people as parents and as fellow citizens in Northeast Ohio.”

She also urged people to be kind and show gratitude as she acknowledged that these decisions and times are difficult for everyone, “we are only going to get through this together and tearing each other down and being negative is not helpful.”

Responding to a question about sports in schools Allan said that the CCBH stands by its recommendations but also understands that other agencies will do what they think they need to do for their communities.

 “We are trying to make the best decision based on data but we know it’s imperfect in a very imperfect world in a very difficult time,” said Allan.