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Cincinnati needs a public mask mandate again, local health official says

Kobby Mendez
Kobby Mendez

A Cincinnati health official says it may be time to bring back a public mask mandate during this significant surge of COVID-19.

"Even for a limited amount of time, while we're in danger of overwhelming our health system," said Grant Mussman, medical director for the Cincinnati Health Department.

Mussman says masking is very effective at reducing the spread of the virus.

"I realize that public officials right now are picking and choosing their battles, and this has become a big battle," Mussman said. "But in terms of things that you can do that are effective, there's not a lot that's a lot better than masking."

Nearly 19,000 new cases were reported in Ohio within 24 hours, according to the state health department on Monday.

The CDC considers nearly the entire country, including Hamilton County, to have the highest level of virus transmission — meaning masks are recommended for everyone regardless of vaccination status.

Cincinnati council approved a public mask mandate in 2020 that expired early last year, once the mayor's emergency declaration expired. Returning Council Member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney says at this time, they're asking everyone to voluntarily wear a mask and get vaccinated.

Returning member Greg Landsman says he plans to ask incoming Interim City Manager John Curp about possible changes to the city's pandemic policies at a meeting Wednesday. (Current City Manager Paula Boggs Muething is resigning effective Jan. 19).

Mayor-elect Aftab Pureval did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

State law grants some jurisdictions like the city of Cincinnati more flexibility under "home rule" regulations. Hamilton County only possesses the specific authority granted to it by the state under the Ohio Revised Code, and therefore can’t institute a public mask mandate on its own. A mandate was in effect for the entire state until expiring about a year ago.

Demand for testing surges — supply not keeping up

The Ohio Department of Health is all out of rapid at-home COVID tests and isn't sure when more will be available.

The state has been distributing the tests for free through local health departments, the YMCA and public libraries. All such locations in Hamilton County are out of stock as of Monday afternoon.

Mussman says if you do test positive with an at-home test, it's important to report it to your local health department.

"There's a survey with that that will allow us to collect some information to get back with you with the best advice possible," he said.

Mussman says the standard PCR tests are still available with results between 24 and 72 hours later.

Most importantly, though: get vaccinated.

"Vaccination helps a lot," he said. "Vaccination and being boosted helps an awful lot."

About 63% of the total Hamilton County population is vaccinated, compared to about 60% of the state population.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.