OHIO — Columbus Public Health and Franklin County Public Health officials issued an indoor mask advisory Thursday, urging residents to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. 

Officials held a briefing Thursday morning that had a blatant message: COVID-19 infections across the county are on the rise. "There's no doubt that COVID-19 in Franklin County is getting worse," said Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola. 

Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Robert stressed "this is not a mandate. This is not an order," saying Senate Bill 22 prohibits health officials from issuing mandates on the community. 

Franklin County is now among the 75 counties that are in the "substantial" or "high" categories for enhanced COVID-19 spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updated map.

The CDC is urging residents in these counties to wear masks indoors and in public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. Because of this guidance, Columbus-area health officials are following suit. They're urging residents to get vaccinated and to wear masks in public spaces and indoors for the time being.

Courtesy of the CDC.

The county has documented a recent spike in COVID-19 cases along with the state. Between mid-June to early July, Franklin County was reporting between 200-400 cases a day. On July 26, county officials reported 1,166 new cases, and on Aug. 4, they reported 1,416 cases, according to state data. 

"In the last four weeks, the percentage of new COVID-19 cases here in Franklin County has more than doubled from 1.3% to 2.8%," said Mazzola. 

Officials are attributing the spike to the delta variant, which is much more contagious than the original strain, said Dr. Mark Herbert of Mount Carmel. 

Herbert, an infectious disease expert, explained the delta variant "makes people sicker, faster," and from what hospitals are reporting, the virus is creating the worst infections in younger people who have few underlying health conditions. 

"We all need to get the vaccine, for ourselves and our community," Herbert said. Mazzola earlier in the conference added that vaccinations are not keeping up with the rate of the spread. 

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the area are also spiking, and doctors are seeing more younger patients this time around than what they documented last year. 

“In the past month, a four-fold increase," said Dr. Andy Thomas, chief clinical officer at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. 

Pediatric hospitals, including Nationwide Children's, are "bursting at the seams." Nationwide Children's reported that it's seeing unprecedented levels of admissions, near winter levels. 

“People who are not vaccinated, you or your loved ones should not have to go through that,” Thomas said. "What we really want to avoid is the situation we are currently seeing in the state of Florida." 

Thomas said Florida hospitals are nearing capacity similar to what was seen at the peak of the pandemic last year. Florida reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the state’s highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic. 

“The pandemic is not over," Roberts said. Health officials are urging residents to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. 

“If there’s any good news, the good news is that vaccines are effective," Herbert said, and Thomas added that a majority of the cases they are seeing in hospitals are those who are unvaccinated. Mazzola said a small portion of them are vaccinated and got an infection. 

The Buckeye State hit one of its highest day-to-day count of COVID-19 cases Wednesday in recent months. ODH reported 2,167 new cases, far above the state's 21-day average of 939. 

The county currently leads the state with more than 131,000 cases since the start of the pandemic.