CLEVELAND — Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, many venues and businesses have reopened to the public for events, but news of the omicron variant brings a renewed focus on staying safe at gatherings and events.
As patrons return to the theater and to concerts, they will be following those new rules. In Northeast Ohio, many venues require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend an event. Playhouse Square, among others, requires masking as well.
Jennifer Hawkins planned to see The Nutcracker on Friday evening and said she was looking forward to having some holiday fun.
“They just asked us to provide our vaccination cards and photo ID, and they gave us wristbands to have ready when we come back to enter the show,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins was happy to adhere to all the rules and said they arrived early to “be ready and do whatever we needed to get in safely.”
“We're going down the street to dinner and then we're going to come back for the show,” Hawkins said. “So they were willing to help expedite that process by doing it ahead of time when we checked in.”
She added that Friday night would be a “test” for her, as she hadn’t been to many big events lately.
Yvonne and Bill Debelak planned to go to The Music Box on Friday evening but said they had already experienced the new rules when they came to see the Festival of Trees.
Bill Debelak said the experience went “very, very, very smoothly” and that he was impressed.
“It's very simple, really. They just ask you to see your COVID-19 vaccination cards, which we always carry with us,” Yvonne Debelak said of the precautions taken at venues. “They checked to see our ID to make sure those are our cards, and then they just slap on a green wristband.”
Both said the precautions help them feel more comfortable.
“We are season ticket holders to the Broadway Theatre Group, and in the theater you're sitting very close together,” Yvonne Debelak said. “The lobby is always very crowded, so we would have been concerned about coming back for the theater. But now we've been vaccinated and everyone has to wear a mask, so I feel comfortable.”
Asked whether that contributed to a false sense of security, Yvonne Debelak said it probably did “because people can still be carriers."
“And even though we know we've been vaccinated and had a booster, we know that we can still get COVID and we know that people that are getting COVID even after all of that,” she said. “So, yeah, we probably should still be very much on guard about it.”
Bill Debelak said hearing about new variants of COVID-19 in the news did not worry him, at least not about his and Yvonne’s health. The couple said they are fully vaccinated and had a booster as well.
“I am concerned about folks who aren't vaccinated, refuse to be vaccinated,” Bill Debelak said. “That's their choice. My choice is to live and to get the vaccination and do all the safety things that they talk about.”
Yvonne Debelak added, “I don't want to let my guard down too much. I think we're happy to get out again, to be able to enjoy activities, to come downtown. But still, sometimes you still need to be somewhat cautious. COVID is not gone.”
Dr. Mark Cameron is an infectious disease researcher and associate professor at Case Western Reserve University. He’s studied coronaviruses for the last 20 years, since the Toronto SARS outbreak.
His research now focuses on what COVID-19 does differently from the original SARS virus, which eventually burned itself out. Cameron said while flu viruses can mutate, sometimes dramatically, to their eventual demise, coronaviruses are usually stable. But that’s not the case with COVID-19.
Cameron said researchers have had to throw out the textbook on coronaviruses.
“We have to know how this virus is still taking advantage of our immunity and our changing personal protections, learn more about how it's still infecting so many Ohioans like this and persevere,” Cameron said.
He urged people to wear masks, especially as we move back indoors, and said it was “an important piece of the puzzle in preventing infections amongst us.”
Vaccination, boosting and testing would also be critical, according to Cameron
“I wish tests in Ohio were easier to get, and in most cases, cheaper for people to test regularly,” Cameron said.
Cameron said he was “disappointed” that, nearly two years into the pandemic, “we can't go out today and have reliable access, immediate access to tests, the PCR tests, which are the gold standard. It's getting harder and harder to find an appointment at your local drugstore, and the time between taking that test and getting the result is also increasing. That shouldn't be happening at this point.”
He later added, “We're in a new surge. It will likely hang out with us through the cold and flu season. And by the spring, I hope that we've learned more and have upped our game in terms of maintaining the efforts against this virus: vaccine, mask and testing.”
When it comes to large gatherings and events, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns attending these increases your chances of close contact with people outside your household and the chances of being exposed to COVID-19.
The CDC is still urging people ages 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated to wear a mask when they’re indoors in public places. Outdoors, it’s acceptable not to wear a mask, unless you’re in an area with high COVID-19 spread. Then, the CDC says to consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings or activities with close contact with people who are not fully vaccinated.
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