Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish opened the county’s July 24 briefing by reiterating that things are still problematic in the county and the county is still designated as red by the state, “which is bad.”
He urged people to follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state and the Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH), including not gathering in groups, maintaining social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks.
“I know we’re all fed up with this entire situation but until we can do the right thing for ourselves and our families and our friend and the entire community we simply aren’t going to get ahead of this,” said Budish.
He then announced a “mask experience site” for the county at CuyahogaCounty.us/masks. He said the site is designed to allow people to answer questions about how businesses are doing in terms of things like wearing masks and sanitizing.
Budish said businesses that are following good practices will show up with a green dot, businesses that aren’t following guidance will show up with a red dot and those that are following practices somewhat will show up with a yellow dot. Budish said people will be able to focus on specific restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and more.
“I know we’re all fed up with this entire situation but until we can do the right thing for ourselves and our families and our friend and the entire community we simply aren’t going to get ahead of this”
CCBH health commissioner Terry Allan then urged people again to follow mask orders, and said the best thing is when businesses post signs that masks are required in the business, he said those signs mean people are more likely to wear them, or remember to grab them from their cars, etc. He said it’s important to bring masks practices home and to social settings not just at work.
“If we embrace masking, we really embrace the social distancing and hand washing as well we can bring this outbreak to its knees,” said Allan.
He then went on to say since about 40 percent of cases in the county are in people ages 20 to 40 years old, he asked those younger people to answer the phone when CCBH calls, saying “we want to hear your story, we want to hear how you’re doing.”
“It’s important that we do not equate the [ZIP code] map to indicate risk at any geographic levels…”
Allan said there have been approximately 240,000 COVID-19 tests performed across the county since the beginning of the pandemic. The CCBH reported testing more than 6,100 people through the partnership with the CCBH and the MetroHealth System from May through July.
Allan said that they’re watching the weekly data, and said it’s too early to tell if the county is going down or plateauing from recent data. “We know we’re far from over,” said Allan.
He also referenced the ZIP code map the CCBH has been releasing for months, and reiterated it reflects where people live and not where they were infected
“It’s important that we do not equate the map to indicate risk at any geographic levels,” said Allan. “It’s passed to susceptible individuals no matter where they live.”
Allan said violations will be issued for businesses that aren’t following mask mandates and businesses may have to go to the Department of Liquor Control in Columbus and may face a revocation of their liquor licenses.
CCBH’s Deputy Director of Prevention and Wellness, Romona Brazile, said that there was a slight decline in the number of cases over the past week, from 919 new cases to 855. The number of cases over the past week is still the second highest number of new cases the county has seen since the pandemic began.
“It is a break and I will take this break,” said Brazile. “We hope to see it continue to decline and going down is definitely better than going up.”
Brazile said the CCBH no longer issues release of isolation orders, but people can leave isolation if they are fever free for 24 hours and it’s been at least 10 days since a positive test.
“It really depends on the person what it means to be fully recovered,” said Brazile.
She said that at the beginning of the month CCBH became overwhelmed with contact tracing but said they have since caught up, despite the fact that they often are told about 100 cases a day. She said they are also hearing about people with COVID-19 reporting having gone to a bar or other social setting, and she said that made contract tracing much more difficult because people who were diagnosed didn’t know who all was there and their contact information.
Medical Director of the CCBH, Dr. Heidi Gullett, then addressed the briefing, saying that the county has seen about 7,500 cases since March, about 11 percent of those cases have needed hospitalization and nearly 3 percent of cases have needed intensive care unit support.
The previous week week the county saw the second highest number of deaths at 34.
“This is one piece of this that is very real…it’s very painful and the reality of COVID-19 in our community is very real,” said Gullett.
Gullett, responding to a question, said that the weekly reported death rate does include people who died weeks earlier, and said that the death rate really reflects what’s been happening in the community over the past three to four weeks. She said that the median age for fatalities is going down to some degree and said a person as young at 36-years-old has died in the county.
She then went on to say that the county sees a significant burden of COVID-19 in communities of color. Forty-five identify as Black and 42 percent identify as white. The U.S. Census estimated Cuyahoga County overall is nearly 64 percent white and nearly 31 percent Black. Gullett also said that this over representation is also seen in hospitalization and ICU rates.
Gullett also highlighted that about 38 percent of the county’s cases are in people 20 to 40 years old. She said that even if a young person feels healthy it’s important to mask up and follow other social distancing measures for the county overall.
She then referenced the epidemiological curve for the county since the beginning of the pandemic and pointed out it had been flattened in the spring and now the goal is to flatten it again so hospitals don’t reach surge capacity.
Gullett then showed a graph showing how many hospital beds are currently in use and she said that the percentages don’t include beds that could be added for surge capacity and thanked area hospitals.
“We’re very fortunate to have tremendous capabilities to take care of sick people in hospitals in Cuyahoga County,” said Gullett. But she also stressed that while the county does have a lot of medical resources and trained staff, “that doesn’t mean we can let our guard down…If that [epidemiological] curve reaches over the surge capacity those are decisions that none of us want to have to make. We never want to have make decisions about who receives care because we don’t have ventilators or ICU beds.”
Allan chimed in to say that no one wants to make the decision about who’s going to get a ventilator and who isn’t. “This is serious business folks going forward…in my view the masking is our way to freedom it’s the way back to economic improvement,” said Allan.
Click here to see CCBH’s full epidemiological report.