Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval Joins Cleveland Mayor in Begging Ohio Officials for More Resources as COVID Overwhelms Cities

"We are now in a health crisis unlike anything we have faced since the beginning of the pandemic," Pureval said.

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click to enlarge Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval in November 2021. - Photo: Allison Babka
Photo: Allison Babka
Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval in November 2021.

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and  leaders from their respective health departments are calling on the state of Ohio to supply increased testing capacity to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  Both regions — and much of Ohio — are overrun with patients with the virus, leaders say.

In a joint press conference Tuesday, the mayors of two of Ohio's largest cities stressed the importance of vaccination, masking, social distancing and regular testing as both cities deal with historic levels of coronavirus transmission and an unprecedented strain on hospitals.

Pureval noted that in Cincinnati, beds in intensive care units are at 99% capacity due to COVID and hospitals have been forced to defer many types of non-COVID care and procedures — a major problem given the staffing shortages in healthcare systems within the Queen City and beyond.

"We are now in a health crisis unlike anything we have faced since the beginning of the pandemic, not just here in Cincinnati, but across the state," Pureval said.

Domonic Hopson, assistant health commissioner for Cincinnati, added that the last two days have brought record-breaking numbers of new COVID patient admissions in Cincinnati's 14-county region.

"We know that these numbers are not sustainable for our hospital systems. Here in the last two weeks, we've seen multiple reports from hospital systems that they are evaluating delaying non-emergency and elective procedures," Hopson said. "And we saw the impact that this had on our community two years ago (and) a year ago."

Hopson said that the latest COVID wave became dire very quickly, especially once Cincinnati reported its first patient with the fast-spreading Omicron variant on Dec. 12.

"On Dec. 26, we had 159 new COVID cases in the city of Cincinnati. Less than a week later, (there were) 983 new cases. That's a 500% increase in one week," Hopson said. "So we're working with city leadership, using every tool that we have to try to address this virus."

Hopson said that Cincinnati — as well as other local governments throughout the region and the state — continue to offer COVID vaccines and testing.

"We know that there has been a pent-up demand on testing in our region for a period now, and we're hoping to address some of that pent-up demand by expanding access to those critical testing resources," Hopson said.

Pureval said that Cincinnati's health department has been in regular contact with Ohio officials, and while state aid like the Ohio National Guard, COVID testing and vaccines has been appreciated, the amount is simply insufficient, given the scale of the coronavirus crisis. He said more testing capacity was required to meet the demand and to lessen the load of hospital emergency rooms.

"This moment in time drives home the urgent need for more resources from our state leaders — one that includes more staff, masks, PPE (personal protective equipment) and, most importantly, testing for our cities," Pureval said.

In addition to testing capacity, Bibb said that more N95 masks were needed everywhere. Both mayors stressed, above all, that getting vaccinated and boosted was the No. 1 defense against the virus. Well over 90% of those hospitalized and those dying from COVID are unvaccinated.

In December, Dr. Richard Lofgren, UC Health’s president and CEO, referred to Cleveland being overrun with coronavirus patients and hospital staff there being stretched to the brink. At the end of that month, Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, experienced a 37% positivity rate with a COVID case rate more than 17 times greater than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold for high transmission, according to CityBeat sister newspaper Cleveland Scene.

On Jan. 5, Lofgren said that the staff shortages and postponing of procedures that are occurring up north are also now happening in Cincinnati.

"There’s no question that this surge of (COVID) cases, though less of them are translating into hospitalizations, there’s just so many more of those that the hospitals are, in fact, getting overwhelmed,” Lofgren said. “And it does squeeze our ability to take care of non-COVID patients, as well.”

Lofgren said that healthcare workers are exhausted from a pandemic that won’t stop, and many have left the industry.

“This pandemic is not over,” Lofgren said, echoing what he had told local officials in December. “In fact, it’s heating up more and more intense than it ever has been in the entire almost two years that we’ve been wrestling with this. And I’m the first to tell you that all of us, we’re tired of it.”

Lofgren added that the contagiousness of the Omicron variant, which has largely taken over as the dominant variant within the United States, was “just stunning.” He said that Omicron is not causing “quite the intensity of the disease” as the recent Delta variant had, but it spreads much more quickly within communities, commanding healthcare workers’ attention.

"It truly doubles the number of cases every two to three days,” Lofgren said. “It’s a math problem. And though a smaller number of people require hospitalization, a small number on a large number is (still) a very large number of individuals. We are in the process of overwhelming our healthcare systems."

At the Jan. 11 briefing, Pureval said that only 26% of eligible children are vaccinated from COVID in Cincinnati. "In Cincinnati, we are seeing a 500% increase in hospitalized children over the past month," he said.

Hopson echoed Pureval, saying, "A lot of times, we think of this virus as a virus that affects our adults. But there has been that 500% increase when we look back just four weeks ago, looking at the amount of admissions for our kids (ages) 0-17."

Bibb explicitly endorsed the vaccine and the booster shot, saying what alarmed him most about Cleveland's COVID strategy until this point was its lack of communication in communities of color, where vaccination rates are extraordinarily low.

Pureval has been a vocal proponent of COVID vaccination and science, joining with former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley to urge vaccinations before the holidays in December and implementing COVID safety protocols at his inauguration earlier this month. Likewise, while on the campaign trail, Bibb regularly promoted vaccination as the primary defense against the coronavirus and posted images of his own vaccine experience.

Both Bibb and Pureval said they've been vaccinated and boosted.

Cincinnati has information about COVID-19 vaccination sites and testing locations on its health department website. Other regional resources include Hamilton County Public Health and The Health Collaborative.

A portion of this story was originally published by CityBeat sister newspaper Cleveland Scene.

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