COLUMBUS, Ohio — Health officials issued an indoor mask advisory on Thursday for Columbus and Franklin County due to the increased spread of COVID-19 in the area.
The advisory is effective immediately, Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts said, clarifying it is not an order and it is not a mandate.
That said, Roberts and other health officials are encouraging all people to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until further notice.
The advisory falls in line with recently updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That guidance recommends people wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status in areas where there is high or substantial virus spread.
The announcement also comes as Ohio health officials are reporting a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state.
According to Dr. Andy Thomas, chief clinical officer at OSU Wexner Medical Center, there were 200 hospitalized from COVID on July 9. Nearly 800 are hospitalized across the state.
In Franklin County and areas south and southeast, there are currently 200 patients in the hospital with COVID-19. Thomas said that's a 51% increase from just 7 days prior.
Despite this, health officials said the number of deaths are down and are crediting the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to Franklin County Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola, the vaccine is “the most important public health action to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Currently, only just over 50% of Franklin County residents are fully vaccinated.
Mazzola said nearly all who are currently hospitalized for the virus in the state are unvaccinated.
The percentage of new people testing positive for COVID-19 in Franklin County has more than doubled in the past four weeks, health officials said. Previously at 1.3%, the positivity rate now sits at to 2.8%. The seven-day moving average for cases has risen 56% in the past two weeks.
“There is no doubt that COVID-19 in Franklin County is getting worse,” said Franklin County Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola.
Mazzola said health officials believe the significant increase can be attributed to the delta variant.
“The delta variant is extremely contagious and our cases are increasing,” said Roberts. “The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from hospitalization and death from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. And wearing a mask is another layer of prevention that will help protect your and others.”
Roberts said state Senate Bill 22, which limits health orders, is the reason why health officials have issued the advisory and not a mandate.
Supporters of SB 22 have said the law is not meant to target the authority of state health officials, but rather ensure there is legislative oversight for any future crises.
Gov. DeWine expressed concern over the bill, saying it strips local health departments and the Ohio Department of Health of their ability to protect citizens from possible future threats.