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CLEVELAND (WJW)– Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish announced a mask advisory for all residents during a news conference on COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Budish, who was joined by Cuyahoga County Board of Health Commissioner Terry Allan, called masks a small price to pay to keep unvaccinated children and at-risk elderly safe.

“We have to stop the spread of this virus and time is running out. As the weather gets colder and we’re forced indoors, chances of spread will only increase. So in partnership with the county board of health, effective immediately, we’re implementing a mask advisory for all Cuyahoga County residents regardless of their vaccination status. Our mask advisory strongly urges masking in all indoor areas to prevent a crisis of COVID cases, hospitalizations and fatalities,” Budish said.

“We urge our businesses and municipalities to enforce the use of masks in all buildings. And we urge schools to require masks for all students and staff so that kids can stay safe and learning in school.”

When asked about consequences for not masking, Budish said, “There’s no fines. There’s no criminal penalties. The consequences are people will get sick and some of them will die.”

Cuyahoga County leads the state of Ohio in hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus. More than 2,000 people in the county have died from COVID-19, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Allan said the current trajectory of cases has the county rapidly approaching a level that is four times the CDC threshold for high transmission. Modelers at Case Western Reserve University and the University of Akron predict Cuyahoga County could exceed 1,000 cases per day by early next week, according to the health commissioner.

“These levels would represent our worst days from last winter,” Allan said. “Area hospitals are reporting they’ve reached 80 percent of their capacity to treat patients who may present with illness just as flu season is starting.”

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health said vaccines have been started in more than 56 percent of the population.

Budish also mentioned President Joe Biden’s vaccination mandate. He said the county is looking into something similar, but it requires working with five unions.