Hamilton County leaders recommend vaccination, masks at Bengals game; Bengals have no such requirements

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 8:05 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 12:02 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Thousands of football fans are safe to gather inside the open-air Paul Brown Stadium to watch the Bengals in the playoffs this weekend only if they are fully vaccinated and boostered - and wear a mask, Hamilton County leaders say.

However, a spokesperson for the Bengals says they have never required proof of vaccination or fans to wear a mask.

Deborah Hayes, president and CEO of The Christ Hospital Health Network, also endorsed that advice during the county’s COVID-19 briefing with Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman and Commissioner Denise Driehaus.

“People need to make personal assessments on what is safe for their family. If your family is all vaccinated and boosted, you can go to the game,” Kesterman said, adding that he wears a mask everywhere he goes.

“If you are fully vaccinated and boosted, going to the game is fine but I would encourage everyone to wear a mask and maintain social distances inside,” Hayes said.

Hamilton County is now officially in a state of emergency due to rising cases due to the highly-contagious omicron variant.

County Commissioners approved the 60-day emergency declaration Tuesday due to the county’s high volume of community transmission and a 25.25% positivity rate.

By Wednesday, the positivity rate increased to more than 27%, Kesterman said.

Hamilton County had a 7-day average of 1,659 new cases per 100K people on Sunday, a new high since the start of the pandemic in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The county shattered that record by Wednesday with an increase in 13,000 cases for a total of 151,013 since the start of the pandemic, Driehaus said.

“These numbers are really remarkable - in a bad way,” she said.

County hospitalizations total 5,047 as of Wednesday, up 150 last week, and there’s been 1,684 deaths, up 31 people in the past week with an average of 4 to 5 deaths a day, according to Driehaus and Kesterman.

“Those positive case numbers are higher than they‘ve ever been. Hospitalizations are higher than they’ve ever been,’ Driehaus said. “The death rate is about as high as it’s ever been and creeping up, so just to put that into perspective.”

The emergency designation will increase the county administrator’s ability to buy bulk quantities of rapid tests, they say.

The declaration also activates the Hamilton County Emergency Operations Center to coordinate response efforts and brings back daily COVID-19 briefings.

Ohio omicron cases expected to peak in late January, doctors say | Omicron may be headed for a rapid drop in US and Britain

On Wednesday, county leaders urged the public to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status and urged the unvaccinated to get the shots.

Health care systems are filling up as a result of the unprecedented rate of cases, and Christ Hospital’s CEO said “100% of hospital beds are filled” here but not just with COVID-19 cases but other patients who need life-saving treatment.

Right now, 175 people are in ICU at hospitals in the county - 90% of whom are unvaccinated, she said.

There are long waits in emergency rooms and to transfer into hospitals from other healthcare facilities in the area.

Procedures that do not place a patient’s immediate health or wellbeing at risk nor contribute to the worsening of a serious life-threatening medical condition are being delayed.

“We are a critical stage in the pandemic,” Hayes said. “Hospitalizations are 30% more than at any stage of pandemic. The number of patients coming to the hospitals to be admitted is extraordinary compared to any other time in the pandemic and we are not at the peak yet.”

The omicron variant is different, she said, because its transmission efficiency is nearly twice that of other strains.

“It spreads almost if not as easily as measles, one of the most easily transmissible viruses in the whole wide world,” she said. “we need to come together, we need to take this seriously and we do not want to put more stress on the health cares system.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the Ohio National Guard would come to Cincinnati next week to help out at three COVID-19 testing sites.

Hayes said Wednesday “starting next week they will be here (The Christ Hospital) helping to staff our units and train with us....they are now going to be here supplementing our staff. We are very grateful to our National Guard who will be here to help us.”

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