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“We are very concerned about the surge that we're seeing," Cuyahoga County has 5,761 cases and 322 deaths

July 10, 2020
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In the first virtual Cuyahoga County coronavirus briefing, County executive Armond Budish opened by saying “according to the state [Cuyahoga County is] at red level three and going in the wrong direction towards four, our cases are skyrocketing our emergency room visits are skyrocketing hospital admissions are going up and things are getting worse we've got real trouble we've got to take serious steps to stop the spread.”

The phone number for mask compliance complaints in Cuyahoga County is 216-698-5050, or comment online at CuyahogaCounty.us/maskexperience.

Budish said that the violation of the state health order requiring masks to be worn whenever people are in public, outdoor spaces, is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

For those cities that don’t pass their own laws the state health order is the law. Budish said they set up a phone number to handle mask compliance complaints at 216-698-5050, or comment online at CuyahogaCounty.us/maskexperience.

“If repeated complaints are received or serious non-compliance is raised under the state order the County Sheriff would have the authority to investigate and potentially take further action local law enforcement also has the authority to act but it's our hope that this kind of action won't be necessary” said Budish. “Just wear a darn mask.”

“The way we get closer to normal is through masks,” said CCBH commissioner Terry Allan.

Budish then said with unemployment at an all time high in the county “is looking at an impending eviction crisis and with the pandemic in full swing, this is the worst time for families to be thrown out of their homes.” Budish said the county, City of Cleveland, Cleveland Housing Network Housing partners and Eden Incorporated created a rental assistance fund and within a week the fund received 1,600 applications and 3,100 inquiries about the program.

“It's clear to us that the need is there we're listening to you and know you need help and we'll continue to assess how we can further help those who are struggling both financially and physically in Cuyahoga County,” said Budish.

If you have low to moderate income up to about $90,000 for a family of four, Budish said to apply for assistance at neorenthelp.org. He also said if you’re unable to pay rent because of COVID you may qualify for up to three months of unpaid rent to see if you qualify visit neorenthelp.org.

Budish went on to say that county services, like the Division of Children and Family Services and the automobile title agencies, are available either in-person or online during the pandemic.

Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH) Commissioner Terry Allan then began his comments and said that while Cuyahoga County is currently at a level red the county is on a watch list to be raised to purple, the highest level of COVID concern from the state.

“We are very concerned about the surge that we're seeing in cases that has been sustained over the last few weeks cases every day in our jurisdiction alone well into the hundreds,” said Allan.

Allan said the determination is based on seven factors, including the number of new cases per capita and how that changes over a two-week period; whether there is sustained new case growth over five days; the number of new cases outside of congregate living facilities like long-term care facilities or nursing homes; sustained increases in emergency room visits; increases in outpatient visits as well as sustained increases in new COVID hospital admissions. That last indicator is tied to intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy rates.

“We are very concerned about the surge that we're seeing in cases that has been sustained over the last few weeks cases every day in our jurisdiction alone well into the hundreds,” said Allan.

Allan said that while younger people are now appearing to get COVID-19 at a higher rate that it’s important for young people to keep in mind they can spread the disease to other, more vulnerable groups.

The average number of emergency room visits has doubled and outpatient visits have quadrupled in Cuyahoga County

The CCBH call center is receiving several hundred calls a day said Allan about concerns about things like testing, masks and workplaces.

“The concern is rising, the risks are rising, and we need to act,” said Allan. He also said the positivity rate is rising because in Ohio and across the country more younger people are testing positive for the virus.

The average number of emergency room visits has doubled and outpatient visits have quadrupled in Cuyahoga County, said Allan. “We don’t want to go through the tragedy of what New York City experienced, nor do we want to face what Arizona and other states are facing right now - the hospital surge could lead to two clinicians having to make impossible choices, impossible choices about who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t. Who gets life-saving procedures and who doesn't. No one wants to face that prospect.”

Allan said the CCBH is working with partners to ensure everyone knows that the smart thing to do for everyone, and for the economy, is to wear a mask.

“The way we get closer to normal is through masks,” said Allan.

Romona Brazile, the Co-Driector of Prevention and Wellness for CCBH then began to discuss the surge over the past few weeks, saying the CCBH received 747 new cases in the previous week, the highest number of weekly cases since the pandemic began.

She also addressed some racial equity issues the CCBH is tracking and said, “Last week was the first week where we saw the percentage of cases reporting as African-American equaling the percentage of cases who identify as white at 43 percent we also are still seeing a higher rate of hospitalization and ICU admission for those who identify as black as compared to other races."

She said that more young people are also being diagnosed and the median age of someone who is infected is now 44-years-old, compared to 50-years-old earlier in the pandemic. She also said 1 in 5 people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the county are now between the ages of 20 and 29-years-old.

Brazile said that out of state, recreational travel has picked up which is a concern. She also said that people should try to maintain social distancing even after they are tested but before they receive results to ensure as many people as possible are safe. She also said that due to the increase, the CCBH has a challenge contact tracing everyone who has been diagnosed with the virus, and has had to prioritize specific groups like those in congregate facilities. She asked that people who have tested positive for the virus reach out to as many of their close contacts as possible.

1 in 5 people diagnosed with COVID-19 in Cuyahoga County are between the ages of 20 and 29 years old.

Dr. Heidi Gullett began her remarks, as she used to with the in-person briefings, by bringing up a moment of gratitude – this time it was thanking those at the CCBH for working so hard during this troubling time.

Gullett adult medical beds in the county are 80 percent full which is a 3 percent increase over the past week, 59 percent of the pediatric medical surgical beds are full which was also a 3 percent increase. The increase in intensive care unit beds was the most concerning said Gullett, as the county saw a 5 percent increase in the last week so now 82 percent of the ICU beds in the county are being used. About 30 percent of ventilators are being used, which has remained fairly constant and the number of ventilators has remained stable said Gullett. In terms of number of tests administered, Gullett said that the county saw about 3,000 fewer tests administered, likely due to the July 4 holiday, but the percent positive number has gone up. She underlined this shows that the increase in cases is NOT due to an increase in testing. The positive rate was 8.8 percent over the last week which was a significant increase from previous weeks.

Gullett also asked fellow health care providers promote wearing masks and social distancing to their patients and also to be an example for everyone in the community.

Before asking for questions, Allan said the CCBH is following its own advice in terms of remote working, cleaning and wearing masks at CCBH to reduce the potential spread in the workplace. He also encouraged work places to post signs that says “masks required upon entry.”

This is the time where all of us have to do absolutely everything within our power to be vigilant and that means every single one of us,” said CCBH Mefical Director Dr. Heidi Gullett.

Responding to a question about enforcement of a mask wearing mandate, Budish said no one wants to follow people around to make sure they are wearing a mask, but he also said there isn’t enough law enforcement to go around and enforce such a mandate. He said the county will be relying heavily upon phone calls and messages reporters to the county by citizens.

When asked about the increase in ICU bed usage and if it would push Cuyahoga County into a higher urgency bracket – purple – and what that would mean Allan responded by saying that the numbers fluctuate constantly and it’s important to look at trends. He also said that’s why they were urging people to wear masks right now in the county.

This is the time where all of us have to do absolutely everything within our power to be vigilant and that means every single one of us,” said Gullett. She stressed again how imperative it is that the community flattens the curve so the county doesn’t reach its surge capacity.

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