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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.

DeWine Orders Mask Mandate In Seven Hot-Spot Counties

Gov. Mike DeWine holds a mask
Office of Gov. Mike DeWine
Office of Gov. Mike DeWine
Gov. Mike DeWine holds a mask made by his wife Fran at a press conference in April.

With cases of COVID-19 rising and the average age of those contracting the virus getting younger, Gov. Mike DeWine is ordering masks for people in counties considered "level 3 public health emergencies" - but not statewide.

The state has recorded 55,150 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 918 new from yesterday. There are 2,718 confirmed deaths, which is a jump of 41 deaths from yesterday. But DeWine said the numbers after a weekend can be "different coming off of a weekend", which is why he said data is examined on Wednesday to determine the color-coding for counties.

And on that note, DeWine said the Ohio Department of Health will issue a mask mandate for people indoors or in public places in the seven counties that are currently shown in "red", or considered a level 3 public health emergency. Counties affected are Hamilton, Butler, Montgomery, Franklin, Huron, Cuyahoga and Trumbull.

The order isn’t statewide – it covers just the counties in red or purple on the state’s public health advisory map. Right now there are seven, and DeWine said the mask mandate falls off if the case numbers do.

“Wethoughtthatthiswasasurgicalpreciseapproachtogointhose counties that are redhot,frankly,wherewehadrealproblemsgoingon," DeWine said.

DeWine said Ohioans weren’t ready for a mask mandate in April, when he issued one and then backed off it a few hours later. But he says they’re ready now.

“WhatisatstakehereisthelivesofOhioans.Thisisamatteroflifeanddeath," DeWine said.

DeWine said he spoke to health officials in those red counties and why the spread is high. They told me it's spreading at large family gatherings, birthday and graduation parties, funerals, some tourist destinations, churches.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who's been the point person on business and the economy during the pandemic, said a business is not required to enforce this mask mandate in those seven counties. He said for instance, there's no expectation that grocery store workers would be required to "physically impose the order". He said that's up to state and local officials.

And DeWine added that the state's lawyers have told him his administration has the authority to issue this mask mandate in this "extraordinary circumstance", which he described as "a public health emergency of unprecedented duration". DeWine said he's trying to take measured action. But there are several lawsuits that have been filed already and he said he expects more.

DeWine began his briefing noting that Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) has announced she'stested positive for coronavirus, the first positive case in Ohio legislature.

There have been concerns raised by Democrats that masks are not required during session. Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford), who has said he doesn't have a mask, has said he can't require elected lawmakers to wear them.

Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.
Karen Kasler
Contact Karen at 614/578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.