Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval and leaders from their respective health departments called on the state of Ohio to supply increased testing capacity to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
In a press conference Tuesday, the mayors of the state's second and third largest cities stressed the importance of vaccination, masking, social distancing and regular testing as both cities deal with historic levels of transmission and an unprecedented strain on hospitals.
In a departure from former Mayor Frank Jackson, Mayor Bibb explicitly endorsed the vaccine and the booster shot. While he said now was not the time to dwell on the past, he said what alarmed him most about the city of Cleveland's Covid-19 strategy until this point was its lack of communication in communities of color, where vaccination rates are extraordinarily low.
The City of Cleveland is overall only 45% vaccinated, far below the state and national average. Bibb said his administration, and his new Covid-19 task force, wants to tackle that number "head on." He said when the task force meets for the first time Wednesday, one of its primary tasks will be designing and implementing messaging strategies to promote vaccination in communities where there has been low rates, particularly neighborhoods of color.
"That might mean knocking on doors," Bibb said, "it might mean working with clergy in neighborhoods where there is a lack of trust. We need to talk about the importance of getting vaxed and boosted."
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 were vaxed and boosted.)
Bibb said that a history of medical racism and a lack of faith in medical institutions, coupled with a flood of misinformation in the media, has prevented many in black and brown communities from trusting science and the vaccine.
"As Mayor, it's my responsibility to assuage their concerns and use every tool in our toolbox to address them," he said. "The key takeaway is that we have to meet people where they are."
Both Bibb and Pureval said doing so was crucial due to the rising level of cases and hospitalizations in their respective cities. Pureval urged parents, in particular, to get their eligible children vaccinated, as in Cincinnati the vax rate among children is low (26%) and hospitals have seen a massive influx in child cases and admissions.
Pureval said that Cincinnati's health department had been in regular contact with the state, and while state aid has been appreciated, it is simply insufficient, given the scale of the crisis. He said more testing capacity was required to meet the demand and to lessen the load of hospital emergency rooms.
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 number-one defense against the virus. Well over 90% of those hospitalized and those dying from Covid-19 are unvaccinated.
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