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You're vaccinated and boosted. How worried should you be about this surge?

lone man wears a mask in a cincinnati bengals game crowd
Aaron Doster
FR171400 AP
Some fans wear face masks during the second half of an NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Cincinnati. This weekend's playoff game has some people concerned given the current surge of cases locally.

Public health officials say the COVID-19 situation right now is dire, with record-setting new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

WVXU's Becca Costello spoke with Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore Thursday about how concerned we should be at this point in the pandemic and tips for celebrating the Bengals game this weekend.

The pandemic began nearly two years ago. What makes this surge different?

Melba Moore: I think what makes it different is that — we know that we have vaccines. We know that the people in the hospital, between 90-95% of them are unvaccinated. So when we talk about breakthrough cases, and those are people who are vaccinated, the symptoms aren't as severe as when you don't have the vaccine. So we look at that and say a couple of things: we would not be here if the vaccination rates were higher. And we want to always stress that the vaccines work.

I think we've been getting some mixed messages from public officials about what people should be doing now. We know, as you said, that getting vaccinated and boosted is the best way to protect yourself. But for those of us who are vaccinated and boosted, what should we be doing differently now?

Here's what I would say: think about, is this a must, a have-to, or a desire? I desire to do X, I desire to go to X. I have to do this, I have to go to work. So thinking about being cautious, and making decisions that are best for the individual. And really thinking that through — I want to be out and about, well, what am I gonna do? I'm gonna make sure I'm masked up and I'm going to practice social distancing. Because I don't know who's around me.

There are concerns about big crowds for the Bengals game this weekend. Mayor Aftab Pureval has said it's safe to go out and gather as long as you're vaccinated, boosted and wear a mask. But as you said, many people are not vaccinated and boosted and environments for a lot of these watch parties like restaurants and bars make it really difficult to socially distance. So what are the risks that people need to be considering as they think about going out this weekend?

If you're not vaccinated, you're putting yourself and others at risk. If you're vaccinated, mask up, socially distance. And if you're going to those places where there are going to be crowds think about your activity, your behavior in that crowd. Can you socially distance? How long are you within that crowd? If you're sipping on a beverage, put that mask back on if you're not sipping on it. Vaccinated people: enjoy it, socially distance, protect yourself, put a mask on. Unvaccinated people, we want you to do the same thing - but just know you're putting yourself and others at risk if you're in a crowd like that and you have your mask down. It goes back to what I said: have to/must [or] desire/I want. And if I want to be in that environment, then I am going to take all the precautions that I can. That's my personal responsibility.

Many health experts have said the definition of fully vaccinated should be updated to include having the booster shot. Are local officials considering that kind of change to the definition of fully vaccinated here?

We're still looking into that, looking at the science and talking through that because what we've been sharing before the booster was that fully vaccinated was the first and second dose. And then we strongly encourage individuals to have their booster.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I'm just so proud of our Bengals. And I'll be in my place enjoying that game. This is an exciting time for our community. The excitement is in the air. And don't forget to wear orange tomorrow.

An orange mask, right?

Yes, that's right! Put that orange mask on.

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.