Mask Mandate in City-Owned Buildings Starts Tuesday

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — During a press conference Monday morning at the Covelli Centre, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown announced an executive order requiring masks be worn in all city-owned buildings, including the downtown arena, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

The order begins Aug. 24 and will remain in effect until further notice, Brown said. The order is made amid increased numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations locally placing Mahoning County in the red, which he said is driven largely by residents who remain unvaccinated.

“Because they won’t get vaccinated, we’ve got to do things differently in how we operate in the City of Youngstown,” Brown said.

Also contributing to the decision is the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant nationally and within the state, he said. Many city employees have already been affected by COVID-19 in the past few months, he said.

“We have to do what we can locally to protect our citizens, protect our residents and also protect our employees,” Brown said. “And for those who are out there saying this might not seem fair, the only thing I will tell you is get vaccinated. Once we all get vaccinated, then we can look at life a little differently and we won’t have to wear these masks, even in city-owned buildings.”

On average, the city was reporting about 28 new cases of COVID-19 weekly at the beginning of August, up from the 14 average new cases in June and July, said Erin Bishop, health commissioner for the city of Youngstown’s health department. As of Aug. 23, the department’s epidemiologist reports the city is seeing 50 weekly cases, she said.

“We’ve almost quadrupled our time since July,” Bishop said.

During the conference, Bishop reported only one case of the Delta variant locally, “but we’re assuming that it is going to continue to increase here.” She emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing masks and social distancing, particularly the Delta variant spreads.

The City of Youngstown is still below 50% of its eligible population vaccinated against COVID-19, she said. That falls below the stated 70% required to be considered at herd immunity.

“I don’t think we planned on being here,” she said. “I think we thought as a nation, as a state, as a city we’d have more people vaccinated.”

The conference convened moments after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine, which will be marketed as Comirnaty, is still available under emergency use authorization for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals, according to the FDA website.

Erin Bishop, health commissioner for the City of Youngstown’s Health District.

FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine “could be a game-changer” that could allow for vaccine mandates, Bishop said. It could also prompt many who were sitting on the fence to get their shots. The health district will likely stock up on Pfizer vaccines to accommodate those individuals, she said.

More information and education on the spread of the Delta variant is also likely driving residents to get vaccinated, Bishop said. This past weekend, more than 50 individuals in the city received their first vaccinations, she noted, “which for us is a huge success.” Before then, the city had only been reporting five new vaccinations weekly.

With the booster shots coming out, the city health district is serving anyone who is immunocompromised and needs a booster shot, she said. Those patients should have a conversation with their health care team ahead of time to determine whether they need the shot.

The city health department is administering boosters for immunocompromised patients Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

In October, as individuals who received their second dose of vaccine in late January reach their eight-month mark, the city will start hosting clinics for them to receive their boosters as well.

For those who haven’t yet received their first vaccine, the city is offering incentives to do so, including a $100 Visa gift card, as well as a voucher for one lawn seat at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

Regarding schools, Bishop encouraged students, faculty and staff to wear masks and face coverings to mitigate the spread of the virus. On Mondays, Bishop joins other health commissioners throughout the state on a conference call with Gov. Mike DeWine, who is encouraging school districts to adopt masking policies.

In Youngstown, the Youngstown Diocese announced at the beginning of August that all of their schools will leave the decision up to the parents whether their children will be masked. After one day in school, however, the diocese has mandated masks in all of its buildings in the five-county area that it oversees, Bishop said.

The Youngstown City School District also requires masks for all scholars and staff in district buildings, as well as visitors, reported a district representative in an emailed response for confirmation.

“I think we’re going to continue to see this happen at the state level, as well as our local level,” she said.

Currently, schools are not considering weekly COVID testing of school students, faculty and staff, she reported, nor has it come up in conversation during phone calls with Gov. DeWine. For now, the decision of whether or not to mask is the key issue amongst schools and health districts, she said.

“I don’t see us locally doing [testing] anytime soon,” she said. “I haven’t really heard any health commissioners coming out talking about that as one of the options that most schools are going to do.”

As the Delta variant becomes more prominent in the area and starts affecting children, requiring masks in schools is “very important,” she noted, as kids aged 11 and younger are currently not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

“In the beginning, we were protecting our elderly and our loved ones and our grandparents,” she said. “Now, we need to start protecting our young ones.”

Pictured at top: During a press conference Monday, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown announced an executive order requiring masks be worn in all city-owned buildings beginning Tuesday.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.