Anxiety grows for immunocompromised Ohioans as state health mandates come to a halt Wednesday

Posted at 9:54 PM, Jun 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 23:09:21-04

CLEVELAND — When the clock strikes midnight, health orders will come to an end in Ohio including a statewide mask mandate.

Wednesday, June 2 has been circled on the calendars of many Ohioans for weeks.

“Being vaccinated you kind of think, ‘Okay, this is the end.’ But then, on the other hand, feeling a little apprehensive,” Karen Jones said. “You don't know who's standing next to you. You don't know who you're talking to or who you're walking past.”

Some Ohioans have already begun celebrating.

“It seemed like soon as Governor DeWine said that we were going to take the masks off tomorrow, everybody at the stores, half of the store didn't have them on already,” Dawn Moore said. “The behaviors I see bother me because I feel like we're stronger than this as a community. People have to respect the fact that situations might not be the same.”

However, those with compromised immune systems are experiencing heightened anxiety.

“This entire time we did have to take special precautions. I think this isn't going to be any different,” Andi Valaitis said. “We do still have to be cautious. I know personally, I'll still go into a store and wear a mask just to be safe and have that second blanket of security.”

Valaitis is a college student living with cystic fibrosis and said she’s taken extra health precautions nearly all her life.

“We're not doing it to make a statement or whatever. We are truly trying to protect ourselves or a loved one,” Valaitis said. “They may look perfectly fine and they're not. They're immunocompromised or something else is going on and you just never know.”

Valaitis said she evaluates each situation individually when deciding what precautions to take in public.

“Just kind of keep my distance. Even with others, I'll just try to keep that six feet or keep as much room in between us to respect my space and their space depending on how many people are there and who's around me and stuff like that,” Valaitis said. “Kind of gauge the situation and just see, ‘Do I want to take it off right now or do I want to have that extra blanket of security?’ So it's kind of a play-by-play, day-by-day situation.”

Similarly, Moore has cared for her teenage son through several recovery periods following three open-heart surgeries and a valve replacement.

“I worry that if Devin gets it, it could be so much worse,” Moore said. “I have a child who is immunocompromised and I'm in a store with people who don’t. My family is still at risk and that's important to me.”

Moore fears the end of the statewide mandates may cause another surge of COVID-19 cases.

“I saw the elderly people who are in the store or they look so concerned for themselves. They were all wearing their masks,” Moore said. “As a mom with a kid that has some serious health issues, I can empathize with them.”

Dr. Keith Armitage of University Hospitals said people with significant immunosuppression are not always fully protected by the vaccine, but there is cause for optimism.

“What we're seeing with immunocompromised patients, patients with blood cancers, organ transplants, significant immunosuppression, is that they're not always protected by the vaccine. We have seen some patients admitted to the hospital who have those conditions despite getting the vaccine,” Armitage said. “Immunosuppressed people, they can still get the virus, but thankfully, we're not really seeing people get critically ill. There seems to be some protection, even though it doesn't prevent them completely from getting COVID. Even though the pandemic seems to be winding down in Ohio and we're opening up, there are still people who are immunocompromised. I think we should respect that and obviously be kind to each other around the ongoing need for masking in some patient populations.”

Armitage offered recommendations for immunocompromised people.

“I think there will be some groups, even if they're vaccinated, who may still want to wear a mask indoors. If they're around vaccinated people, the risk of getting the virus is very low. If you're immunocompromised and you're around unvaccinated people indoors, you should probably wear a mask,” Armitage said. “The risk indoors is pretty dependent upon the type of air circulation. I think masks will be with us for a while and we should be understanding and patient about people who do need to mask.”

Jones cares for her elderly mother living with Alzheimer’s Disease.

“She has been vaccinated so the worry has diminished, but I know there's always that chance. Try not to live in fear and try to trust the science,” Jones said. “Still considering maybe when I go to grocery stores or Wal-Mart or something like that. Keep my mask on.”

While Jones is apprehensive about the lifting of the mandates, she fears the lack of socialization during the pandemic may have been equally detrimental to her mother as the threat of the virus.

“The socialization is a big piece. I have seen a decline in my mother just because she hasn't been out and about like we were in the past. It has taken a toll on her socially and her verbal ability has diminished since the pandemic,” Jones said. “Not go full out, but take it one day at a time and just get out and enjoy the sunshine. Trying to take little steps, maybe working out, getting outside, and just take a little walk now.”

One health order that will remain in place is Health Director Stephanie McCloud’s order requiring schools to report COVID-19 cases to local health departments.