Columbus, Franklin County Health Officials Issue Indoor Mask Advisory
Columbus and Franklin County public health officials begged residents to wear a mask indoors regardless of their vaccination status as cases of COVID-19 surge in Central Ohio due to the delta variant.
Public health and hospital leaders issued a stark update from the steps of the city health department. Franklin County positivity rates have more than doubled. OSU Wexner Medical Center's Andy Thomas said hospitalizations are way up in the region that covers Franklin County and areas to the south and southeast.
“We today have reached just under 200 patients with active COVID-19 in the hospital," Thomas said. "Back in early July, we were down in the range of 40 patients in the hospital, so a four to five-fold increase just in the last month.”
Ohio reported 1,969 new COVID cases on Thursday, which was well above the 21-day average of 1,007 new cases each day.
With that in mind, Columbus health commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts is forcefully advising people to wear masks indoors.
“This is an advisory, it’s not an order and it’s not a mandate. And the reason why it is not an order or a mandate is because of state Senate Bill 22, which prohibits us from doing any order that would be a blanket order to the whole population.”
Roberts and representatives from every central Ohio hospital system applauded businesses and other organizations that have taken the step to impose their own mask or vaccination requirements. In recent days, Ohio State University and Columbus City Schools announced they will require masks to be worn indoors when their school years begin later this month.
Roberts admits she would probably do more if she could.
“If it weren’t for Senate Bill 22 would I be announcing a mask mandate today? It’s very likely that I would, yes,” Roberts said.
Meanwhile hospital leaders say their facilities are facing the twin challenges of staff shortages and higher patient volume. Dr. Rustin Morse from Nationwide Childrens Hospital says in the past pediatric facilities like his could lighten load if there was a surge in COVID cases.
“We can’t do that now,” Morse said. “So if the adult hospitals start getting increased volumes of COVID they can no longer look to the children’s hospitals as a pop-off valve, we are at capacity.”
Morse was particularly outspoken on how important masking can be in a school setting.
“There is zero, zero downside to wearing a mask,” Morse said. “That’s what makes it so difficult to reconcile in my head. I know people have opinions, I know it’s been politicized. There is no downside to wearing a mask, there is only upside potential for our students and those who work in schools.”
Dr. Roberts adds that based on last year’s guidance from state health officials, if a student does test positive for COVID-19, their fellow students won’t need to stay home if they are wearing masks and remaining socially distant in the classroom.