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Mayor Pureval implements mask mandate for city employees

Health leaders: COVID-19 deaths 'like two-plus bus crashes every day with no survivors.'
Aftab Pureval COVID-19
Posted at 10:30 AM, Jan 12, 2022

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval announced on Wednesday that he is signing an emergency order to require all city employees to wear masks.

The mask mandate has been announced as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have surged, leaving area hospitals full and understaffed.

"Today we are again taking action to slow the spread and make sure our city can provide the basic services that we all depend on," said Pureval.

Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore said as of Tuesday, 57 city employees were out for being COVID-19 positive. The rate of COVID-19 positivity for unvaccinated employees is 8.5%, she said. The positivity rate among vaccinated employees is 4.5%.

Moore said there have been 761 newly reported COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

Watch the full conference below:

Masks were already required for unvaccinated city employees, or those who have opted not to share their vaccination status, but the new emergency order will expand that requirement to all city employees. Members of the public will also have to wear masks inside any city facility.

Hospital leaders joined Pureval, each expressing concern over a high influx of COVID-19 patients coupled with a staffing shortage as hospital staff also fall victim to COVID-19.

"We’re 22 months into this and we’re seeing more COVID patients in our hospital today than we have in the entire pandemic," said John Ward, senior vice president of Bethesda North TriHealth.

He urged those in need of a COVID-19 test to avoid coming to hospitals and emergency departments for them, because their facilities are too overwhelmed. Anyone in need of a test should go to a drive-through testing site or other option instead.

Above all, hospital leaders stressed the importance of vaccines, masking and social distancing to help relieve the strain on hospital systems.

"More people in the state of Ohio are dying of COVID than any other time during the pandemic," said Ward. "Over 100 a day are dying. That's like two-plus bus crashes every day with no survivors."

Both Ward and Christ Hospital's chief nursing manager, Julie Holt, highlighted extreme staffing shortages as one key reason this surge is more dangerous than others previously seen in the pandemic.

"Our healthcare system is in crisis," said Holt. "People have said to me, 'what's different now? Why is it a crisis now? We've been through this before.' It's a crisis now because we have widespread labor shortages in all industries."

The shortage is exacerbated, Holt said, by the fatigue nurses and healthcare staff are experiencing after watching people die day in and day out for 22 months straight.

In addition, personal illnesses experienced by staff and their families sometimes means they cannot come into work, leaving hospitals even more strapped.

The hospital systems look to Cleveland and Toledo, who have been in the midst of surging cases and lagging staffing for much longer. Cincinnati's case load often echoes Cleveland's and the northeastern city has become an indicator of what the Tri-State region may face in the weeks ahead.

Currently, Holt said, Cleveland is struggling with high nurse-to-patient ratios and have converted to surge plans — something Cincinnati hospitals are working to enact now.

"We are working on surge plans which will be very difficult to enact, because what’s different today than any other time during this pandemic is the extreme staffing shortage that we are seeing across our industry and all industries across the U.S.," said Ward.

Typically, outside of a pandemic, the nurse-to-patient ratio is one nurse for every one-to-two patients, Holt said. In Cleveland right now, the ratio is one nurse for every three-to-four patients — and more, in rarer instances.

"When nurse-to-patient ratios go up, we are limited in the care that we are able to provide, so things like baths and linen changes and some of the nice things that we like to do for our patients, we cannot do," said Holt. "And it can even challenge some of the things that we have to do for our patients."

In addition, the surge in COVID-19 cases has ripple effects: Holt said for others who need their area hospitals, this means non-emergent surgeries and procedures are being canceled, particularly if they require a bed.

Patients seeking care in emergency departments will see much longer wait times as well.