In updated guidance, Portage County health leaders urge vaccination and strongly recommend masks indoors

Image of a woman receiving the Covid-19 vaccine
Laura Frost, Emergency Department Assistant Nurse Manager at UH Portage Medical Center, receiving the hospital’s first non-trial Covid-19 vaccination. Submitted photo/UH Portage

Responding to a “rapid rise” of confirmed Covid-19 cases, the Portage County health department and Kent city officials urged residents to resume precautions that had been largely abandoned after the winter wave and encouraged unvaccinated people to “please reconsider.”

Only 48% of Portage County residents have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine. Disease experts say this low rate leaves the community vulnerable to the highly contagious Delta variant, which is now driving a sudden rise in Covid infections here.

Neither Portage County nor the city of Kent have mask mandates, but they are revising their recommendations in light of the surge.

“Based on the [latest] CDC guidance, we strongly recommend vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals resume wearing face coverings when interacting with others indoors,” wrote the Kent City Unified Command in a statement. The unified command comprises Kent Health Commissioner Joan Seidel, Police Chief Nick Shearer, Fire Chief Bill Myers and City Manager Dave Ruller.

In a press release, the Portage County Combined General Health District renewed its call for residents to get vaccinated. Vaccines available in the U.S. are remarkably effective at preventing severe illness and death from Covid-19, and they have proven to be safe after over six months of distribution to hundreds of millions of people.

Meanwhile, over 613,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.

“Vaccine remains the primary prevention against Covid-19,” states Joseph Diorio, Health Commissioner for the Portage County Health District.

The county health department reported that “there has been a sustained increase” in the weekly average of confirmed cases since July 26. They attribute this increase to the more contagious — and likely more dangerous — Delta variant and the low rate of vaccination in Portage County.

“Many people are not yet eligible for the Covid vaccine, and people who have weakened immune systems may not be as fully covered by the vaccine,” the Kent unified command statement said. “Unvaccinated people are becoming seriously ill with the Delta variant. It is not just a ‘bad case of flu.'”

Since March 13, 2020, 229 people in Portage County have died from Covid-19, and 13,416 have been confirmed infected. Some have also suffered long-haul cases, in which fatigue, shortness of breath and other effects persist for months on end.

The county health department also provided the following information:

  • The Portage County Health District provides all three of the Covid-19 vaccines: Moderna, Pfizer and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson.
  • Clinics occur weekly for adults every Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon and for children every Wednesday from 8 a.m. to noon by appointment. All clinics will be expanded if there is increase in demand of the vaccines. Portage County residents are urged to contact our office about any of the three vaccines 330-296-9919, ext. 135 to schedule an appointment.
  • The Covid-19 vaccine can be administered at the same time with other vaccines such as back-to- school vaccines for those within the 12-18 age range.
  • The Portage County Health District is prepared to establish mass vaccination sites when the demand of Covid-19 vaccine overwhelms the weekly clinics.
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Ben Wolford is the editor and publisher of The Portager.

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