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Cincinnati requiring masks for all city workers and visitors to its facilities

A sign outside Cincinnati City Hall says everyone entering the building must comply with all public health orders. That now includes a face mask in all city facilities.
Becca Costello
A sign outside Cincinnati City Hall says everyone entering the building must comply with all public health orders. That now includes a face mask in all city facilities.

Cincinnati officials are now requiring city workers to wear a mask, even if they're fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The emergency order also requires members of the public to wear a mask in city facilities.

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething announced the policy Wednesday. She says the positivity rate among employees has been increasing dramatically.

"Given the rapid spread of the virus, masking and suppressing the spread will help us keep all of our employees safe and at work so we can continue to deliver basic city services," Boggs Muething said.

The city employs about 6,000 people across all departments. As of Tuesday, nearly 60 are positive for COVID-19, and another 61 people are in isolation.

The mask mandate is an expansion of the city's COVID policy, which requires workers to be fully vaccinated or submit to biweekly tests. The policy also required unvaccinated workers to wear a mask.

About 71% of workers report being vaccinated. Some health officials are considering changing the definition of "fully vaccinated" to include a booster shot. The city is encouraging - but not requiring or tracking - booster shots.

Asked about the possibility of a renewed public mask mandate, Mayor Aftab Pureval didn't rule it out.

"In consultation with our public health experts, we are taking action today to try and stop the spread to flatten the curve," Pureval said. "Obviously, we will be monitoring that very closely. And if further action is needed, we'll be prepared to do that."

Last week, Pureval renewed an internal task force to advise on pandemic policies; this week Pureval added that he and several other public officials are now also getting weekly updates from The Health Collaborative and health care CEOs. Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus, County Health Commission Greg Kesterman, and City Health Commissioner Melba Moore will join Pureval on those calls.

'It's a crisis now'

Public health experts say the pandemic has never been more dire than now.

"More people today in the state of Ohio are dying of COVID than any other time during the pandemic," said John Ward, senior vice president of Bethesda North. "Over 100 a day are dying; that's like two-plus bus crashes every day with no survivors."

Julie Holt is chief nursing officer at Christ Hospital. She says many people are asking her why this surge is so different.

"It's a crisis now because we have widespread labor shortages in all industries, but it's especially exacerbated in health care because of the fatigue," Holt said. "Burnout from all the deaths that we're experiencing, increased workloads and acuity of the patients that are in the hospitals, and then the personal illness and the family illness of our staff, which sometimes makes them unable to come to work."

Hamilton County commissioners declared a state of emergency this week, citing the recent surge. Pureval is asking state officials for more resources, especially for testing.

Read the full emergency order below:

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.