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Government & Politics

Cleveland to Keep Enforcing Mask Rules as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Tim Harrison
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson spoke with news media Friday about how he plans to respond to the growing number of new COVID-19 cases.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration is rethinking plans to bring city employees back to the office  as Ohio experiences record surge in COVID-19 cases.

City officials also plan to redouble the enforcement of mask requirements, offer more coronavirus testing and expand contract tracing, Jackson told news media Friday. At the same time, the mayor acknowledged the limits in grappling with a pandemic in ways that vary city by city.

“There is a need here for more of a broader leadership in regards to this, at the national level in particular, and that trickles down to the state level,” Jackson said.

The city is considering hiring an outside firm to help with COVID-19 contact tracing, supplementing the work of a city health department in the midst of an overhaul, the mayor said.

Cleveland’s health department has scheduled 12 COVID-19 testing events over the next few weeks, Interim Health Director Brian Kimball said. The city is targeting the Glenville, Slavic Village and Lee-Harvard neighborhoods, which Kimball described as “testing deserts.”

Meanwhile, health and safety inspectors will continue trying to enforce the city’s rules requiring masks and limiting occupancy at businesses, officials said.

“We have seen numerous establishments set up barriers, whether it’s Plexiglas or wood, and adjusting their seating accordingly, and we’re very appreciative of that,” Safety Director Karrie Howard said. “We’ve also seen some establishments that are a little slower or not in compliance.”

The safety department had been inspecting bars and restaurants around 10 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Howard said. Now, inspectors are going out earlier and checking establishments on Sundays, too.

Much of the spread is happening not at walk-in businesses but at social gatherings like parties or wedding receptions, Jackson said. While city council allowed the administration to enforce fines for noncompliance this summer, the city generally has taken a relatively gentle approach so far, he said.

“We’re looking not to go out and just write people tickets or do all those kinds of things, and fine people in those social gatherings,” Jackson said. “We’re attempting to de-escalate, and in that way, there’s a conversation.”

Jackson’s administration had begun bringing employees back to work at city buildings, after investing in barriers and finding ways to separate workspaces. But with COVID-19 cases climbing, the mayor asked departments to re-evaluate which workers can do their jobs from home, he said Friday.

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