CINCINNATI — With the holidays looming and cases of COVID-19 climbing to an all-time high across Ohio, Cincinnati Mayor-elect Aftab Pureval joined outgoing Mayor John Cranley at Cincinnati City Hall Tuesday to remind residents about the importance of “getting all three shots.”

What You Need To Know

  • Cases of COVID-19 are at all-time highs going into the holiday season

  • City leaders stressed the importance of getting 'all three shots,' including the COVID booster

  • Melba Moore said people should get tested prior to large gatherings even if it means having to change plans

  • The city of Cincinnati staff is nearly 70% vaccinated

The press conference, likely Cranley’s last as mayor, offered a stark reminder that the pandemic remains a very real threat in Cincinnati and other areas across the country, especially with the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant. As of last week, that variant now accounts for 73% of known new infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Melba Moore, the city’s health commissioner, said the first detection of cases of the variant in Cincinnati happened on Dec. 12. She said it was one of the first cases in the state of Ohio so far.

Cranley said the message remains the same – mask up, get vaccinated and socially distance when possible. He wanted to host an event before Christmas and the holidays to use “the power of their influence” to convey that message.

This was the first COVID-19 status update press conference at City Hall in about a year.

“It's somewhat incredible to be back in this room after many months. There was a time when we were here every day. And despite all the things we've been through and all the positives, like the vaccines, the caseload is still very high and getting higher,” Cranley said.

On Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 12,502 new cases within the state, the most for a single day of reporting since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, has the third-highest per capita COVID-19 case rate with an average of 2,456 daily cases per 100,000 residents, per the New York Times, which tracks county-wide data. The county also has the fourth-highest overall number of cases, only behind New York City, Cook County, Illinois and Los Angeles, California, which are much more populous areas.

There were 128 new cases in Cincinnati on Tuesday, Moore said. She expects those numbers to increase in the coming days and weeks, especially as we move into the holidays.

Moore said if you're planning to celebrate this year, the plan to do so safely is the same as it was last year.

"Christmas is coming and we know what it looked like last year where we were doing what I called driveby Christmas and driveby Thanksgiving. We were talking about being outdoors to celebrate. Well, we're there again because we want you to protect your loved ones," she said.

The advice to residents from Moore was to get tested prior to family functions and crowded social gatherings to ensure the safety of friends and loved ones. She said if you test positive, “you may have to change your plans because you'd rather change your plans than have someone become ill.”

Breakthrough cases of COVID do exist and getting vaccinated is not necessarily going to keep a person from catching it, Cranley said. But he noted that the numbers show that not getting vaccinated puts a person at a “far greater risk” of not only contracting COVID, but also going to the hospital with a serious case and potentially dying.

Data from the Ohio Department of Health shows that unvaccinated individuals in the state account for about 94% of COVID-related hospitalizations since Jan. 1, 2021.

Cranley said being vaccinated now means “getting all three shots” – a full regimen of the vaccine plus a booster. He said it’s something we should prepare to do every year as COVID-19 may be with us “for the rest of our lives.”

Pureval, whose wife is a doctor, said getting vaccinated is in the best interest of “your loved ones, your friends and your community.” He also said it’s an important protection for front-line health care workers. Not getting vaccinated also hampers their ability to take care of other patients in need of their services.

Cranley stressed that getting vaccinated is a “personal decision.” But he stressed support for the “freedom” of businesses – from stores to music venues – to make the decision to implement masks and/or proof-of-vaccination mandates for customers.

Under Cranley, the city of Cincinnati modified some city functions to adapt the evolving nature of the then-new pandemic. While City Hall was off limits to the public at times and some employees went remote, they found ways to continue basic city services.

While he's not yet taken office, Pureval said it's "critically important" that city services continue to remain "unabated and unaffected from this pandemic." As Clerk of Courts, Pureval worked to maintain services even when the courthouse was closed by monitoring and responding to health data and modifying employee behavior accordingly. He said the city will continue to do so when he assumes office on Tuesday, Jan. 4.

"Look, personal freedom when you're not at work is one thing. But when you're at work, it's wearing a mask, maintaining social distances and making sure that there's no unnecessary close contacts, so that we ensure the proper delivery of basic services," he said.

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething said nearly 70% of the city staff are vaccinated, essentially mirroring the overall city numbers. She said staff are not required to get a booster but she sent a communication to them today advising them to do so. Staff who are not vaccinated have to go through regular testing to "protect themselves, their colleagues and the public."

She added that residents who choose to get the vaccine are doing their part to protect the city staff who are working to serve them.