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Cleveland sets 60% COVID-19 vaccination goal with an assist from the NBA

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and communications chief Sarah Johnson arrive at a news conference at Tower City on Monday.
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and communications chief Sarah Johnson arrive at a news conference at Tower City on Monday.

Cleveland, where less than half of the residents are vaccinated against COVID-19, aims to raise its vaccination rate to 60% by the end of the year, and the city is looking to the National Basketball Association for help, Mayor Justin Bibb said Monday.

As part of Cleveland’s hosting of the NBA All-Star Game, the league will lend players and basketball veterans to a vaccine public education campaign, giving out merchandise and Cavaliers tickets as incentives.

The league and the city will also run pop-up vaccine clinics in neighborhoods with low vaccination rates and high transmission of the virus, Bibb said.

On top of that, the NBA will donate $100,000 to the Cleveland Foundation’s COVID-19 recovery fund. The league also plans to give 10,000 rapid tests and 25,000 N95 masks to schools and community organizations.

Bibb’s first budget, which is due to Cleveland City Council on Feb. 1., will include more spending on mobile clinics and public health, the mayor said. But the city’s resources are limited, he cautioned.

“As mayor, it’s my job to look outside City Hall to find every resource I can to support our residents,” Bibb said. “That’s why this $100,000 contribution from the NBA is an amazing investment that will support our administration’s efforts to hit that 60% vaccination rate.”

About 46% of the city has received two rounds of vaccination or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot, according to the city’s public health department. Approximately 20% of residents have received a booster.

Cleveland will host a weekend of events culminating with the All-Star Game on Feb. 20.  There will be a celebrity game and another featuring the league's rising stars on Feb. 18, and the popular slam dunk and three-point contests Feb. 19. Attendees at ticketed events must either be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, Bibb said. The city’s mask advisory will also be in effect during the weekend.

That mask advisory is not a mandate, Bibb said.

“As you’ve seen across the country, mandates have a lot of backlash, and it’s critical that we encourage personal responsibility,” he said. “Having a mask advisory indoors, we thought, was the most prudent thing to do, particularly given counsel from our law department and experts inside our public health department, because enforcing that can be a challenge.”

The mayor said his safety director and interim chief of police have been making security preparations for the event since he took office. But Bibb also pledged that Downtown police presence won’t undermine policing in city neighborhoods, something that concerns several members of Cleveland City Council.
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