CLEVELAND — On the fifth day of his term, Mayor Justin Bibb turned his attention to an issue that pre-dated his time as Cleveland's mayor: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and, specifically, the vaccination rate of city residents. After previously announcing the creation of a COVID-19 Task Force, Bibb and his staff toured a city vaccination clinic at McCafferty Health Center in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood Friday morning.
The tour of the public vaccination clinic was intended to help create a focused approach to the city’s pandemic-related efforts, which includes a continued urge for residents to get vaccinated, boosted and, when needed, tested for COVID-19.
“As a new mayor, it’s important for me to have a very focused approach to support our residents, particularly in high transmission areas and in communities of color across our city,” Bibb said. “We’re going to work deliberately with the county and the state to have a very regional and collaborative approach to addressing this pandemic. I wanted to make sure that we, as a city, had a very focused and clear strategy moving forward.”
Part of that strategy includes the creation of a COVID-19 Task Force—a consortium of more than two dozen local and regional health experts, including the leaders of the region’s three healthcare systems. Announced on Thursday, the task force will have its first meeting next week.
The goal of the task force is to survey the most recent trends and data while also helping to influence and craft public health policy moving forward. Bibb said a new COVID-19 policy for the city could be announced as early as next week.
“I’m willing to make sure my staff — and myself as mayor —that we’re knocking on doors, going to churches, going to libraries and talking about the importance of getting vaccinated, talking about the importance of getting boosted and really addressing the myths that exist with this pandemic,” Bibb said. “We’re being real and honest about the importance of staying safe and healthy. Our city can’t get back to work until we get out of this pandemic. I, as mayor, have to take a leadership role in doing that.”
According to the Cleveland Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, the vaccination rate among city residents is at 45%, roughly 20 percentage points behind the county’s average vaccination rate. Additionally, a mere 16% of city residents have received the recommended booster shot, according to city data.
“[Vaccination demand] been steady over the past year or so. Right now, we are at about 45%. We’re looking to increase that,” said Brian Kimball, the director of the Department of Public Health. “We’ve seen larger than normal numbers here at the clinic in the past week, which is excellent.”
Dr. Karen Cooper, the medical director of the Department of Public Health, urged those that are vaccinated to still practice proper social distancing and other measures that have been recommended since the start of the pandemic.
“Wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands, all of those measures, including vaccination, are the reasons why we are able to keep people safe,” Cooper said.
In addition to discussing his public health policy platform, Bibb also briefly touched on the issue of public safety while meeting with reporters on Friday morning. As News 5 reported earlier this week, there was a significant increase in the number of reported carjackings in Cleveland in 2021. One of the final incidents of the year ended tragically.
On New Year’s Eve, off-duty Cleveland police officer Shane Bartek was shot and killed during a carjacking attempt, resulting in a region-wide hunt for the suspect, later identified as Tamara McLoyd. The 18-year-old McLoyd was later arrested and charged with aggravated murder, accused of shooting Bartek twice in the back.
City officials announced this week that Bartek’s death will be classified as a line of duty death, an important distinction because the classification provides numerous benefits for his family.
“My heart goes out to the family of Shane Bartek and many of the members of this community that continue to see a loss of life due to violent crime,” Bibb said. “What you’re seeing is not only an increase in this pandemic but you’re also seeing an increase in violent crime. As mayor, my first priority is keeping our residents safe and secure and you’re going to see some more announcements from my team coming out in the next couple weeks about how we’re going to tackle violent crime across our city in the future.”
Although he and his team have already been working behind the scenes after his election night victory, Bibb said his first five days as mayor have been a “whirlwind.”
“It certainly is an honor of lifetime to serve this city. No day is the same. But it’s important to stay out, stay visible, and really make sure that we are meeting the residents where they are, whether it be with the COVID-19 pandemic or whether it be with violent crime,” Bibb said.