While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has updated its guidelines recommending that those fully vaccinated for COVID-19 start wearing masks indoors again, Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner said Thursday that he is not aware of any new push for mask mandates in Ohio.
Noting that the passage of HB 22 in the state “greatly reduced” the authority of the Ohio Department of Health and local boards of health to enact state or local mandates for public health measures aimed at reducing the spread of disease, Warner said individuals, organizations and schools will have to make their own mask decisions.
He said that the best tool against COVID-19 or new strains of it is vaccination.
“It is a safe and proven way to reduce COVID-19 transmission, hospitalization and death, even against the new variants,” Warner said. “The question that I would like to ask our unvaccinated community is this: How many additional Highland County COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are you willing to accept? By choosing not to be vaccinated, we are choosing to accept more disease and death in our community. Sixty-eight local people have died from COVID-19 since this all started, and 204 people have been hospitalized. This has a pretty big impact in a small community like ours, and by now most of us know someone who has been seriously ill from COVID-19.”
Warner said the current state of the coronavirus is a change from the peaks of late fall and winter of last year because each person in the community “individually has the ability to influence how many future hospitalizations and deaths occur in Highland County.”
He said that the unvaccinated population in the country is making up the “vast majority” of new cases and there is nothing in Highland County that is preventing a widespread outbreak.
“If we fail to increase our vaccination rates, then we have to be prepared to accept the consequences for our own collective inaction,” Warner said.
Warner said the wet summer this year had him thinking back to his high school years when the Ohio River flooded its banks and did around $200 million in damages in Southwest Ohio. He said the flooding was frustrating to him because there was nothing he could do but sit and watch it happen.
“A flood analogy is very fitting in many ways to COVID-19, but in one very significant way, COVID-19 is different,” he said. “We can see the flood coming well in advance, and only 30 percent of us have put sandbags around our homes. We have the solution in our hands, but we won’t put it in our arms.”
In other developments, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced Wednesday that Ohio is beginning to offer a financial incentive for all state employees and their spouses that receive a COVID-19 vaccination. He said state employees are eligible for a $100 financial incentive while their spouses are eligible for a $25 incentive.
“State employees and their spouses are encouraged to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by getting a COVID-19 vaccination,” DeWine said. “Vaccines are the most effective strategy at stopping the spread of COVID-19 and preventing serious illness. I urge all Ohio employers to encourage their employees to get vaccinated, whether that’s through financial incentives, paid leave programs, or other incentives.”
According to the CDC, its new guidelines are due to new evidence on the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant that is currently circulating in the country. The new guidelines from the CDC are as follows:
* An updated recommendation for fully vaccinated people to wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. According to the CDC, Covid Data Tracker, which can track the community transmission level in terms of four different levels — low, moderate, substantial or high — Highland County has been found to be at a substantial community transmission level.
* Fully vaccinated people might choose to wear a mask no matter the level of transmission, especially if the person is immunocompromised or has an increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, of if there is someone in their household that is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated.
* Fully vaccinated people who have a been exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be tested three to five days after exposure and to wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until that person has received a negative test result.
* The CDC recommended universal mask wearing for all teachers, staff, students and school visitors no matter their vaccination status.
Reach Jacob Clary at 937-402-2570.