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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

As New Mask Notices Are Posted, Ohio's COVID Case Count Soars to New Record

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Amanda Rabinowitz
New signs have gone up at stores following the governor's address Wednesday night.

A day after Gov. Mike DeWine strengthened face mask orders, the state reported 7,101 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in Ohio to 274,457.

ICU admissions remain about the same, DeWine said, with 35 new deaths.

"Every single county in Ohio is a high-incidence county," DeWine said. "Even Carroll County, with the lowest number, is double the high-incidence level according the CDC."

Putnam, Mercer, Auglaize and Miami are among the counties with the highest incidence level. DeWine noted that "the whole state is pretty much filling in with red."

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Eight more counties are now on red alert and two, Tuscarawas and Franklin, are on the watch list to go purple next week.

Tuscarawas County is one of two counties that could reach purple next week; eight counties are newly red.

"My hope, my prayer, is that we'll all be more careful; we'll all wear a mask more," he said.

New Orders
During a special address to Ohioans Wednesday night, the governor strengthened the state's face mask orders, which could result in the closure of businesses that don’t enforce the wearing of masks by employees and customers.

Ohio's strengthened mask order will include new provisions, including that businesses must post a sign requiring a face mask at all entrances. Stores will be responsible for ensuring all employees and customers are wearing face mask at all times.

DeWine said he received lots of calls and texts Wednesday night about the new orders, particularly in regard to the warning that next week, the state will look into possibly closing bars, restaurants and fitness centers if COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

"People say, why restaurants? Why bars? Why not this; why not that? I understand that," he said. "The answer to that is this: it's winter, late fall; it's getting colder, people are obviously moving inside. It makes any inside activity more difficult, more dangerous potentially. What's unique about bars and restaurants as well as fitness centers is for a great deal of time people are not wearing masks. And we also know people are sometimes there for a long time."

He later said that he understood people's frustration with the increased order, but that "the buck does stop with me. Hospitals have told me that at the rate we're going, this is not sustainable. Just look at how much (cases are) jumping every single day. It's not an option. We have to take action."

To enforce the order, DeWine said the state is creating a Retail Compliance Unit lead by Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation agents, who will inspect businesses to ensure the new guidelines are being followed.

The first violation will result in a written warning and a second violation will result in the closure of a store for up to 24 hours.

He said his wish was that what Ohioans took away from Wednesday's address was hope. "We're going to get through this," he said. We can see the sun coming up. We're just not there yet.

New Dashboards Available
DeWine also announced two upgrades to the Public Health Advisory System: a zip code dashboard that allows users to drill down to case numbers by zip code; and a flu dashboard that will show the state's flu trends over time and whether cases are on the rise or decline.

Additional Assistance For Counties
The state is setting aside $30 million to assist each of the state's 113 health departments with $200,000 to help defeat the virus. DeWine said counties would have flexibility to determine the best way to spend those dollars. What remains of the $30 million will be spend on additional contact tracers.

Copyright 2020 91.7 WVXU.