Governor Mike DeWine made three additions to the statewide mask mandate in an address to Ohioans on Wednesday.
In addition to encouraging anyone leaving their house to wear a mask, DeWine said every business will now be required to post a face covering requirement sign at all public entrances to the store, with each store responsible for ensuring every customer and employee is wearing a mask. A new retail compliance unit, composed of agents led by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, will inspect businesses for compliance. The first violation of the order will result in a written warning. A second violation could result in closure for up to 24 hours.
DeWine’s speech is only the second time since the pandemic began that the governor made a formal address. With more than 33,000 new cases reported in the state in the last seven days, and 5,874 cases and 253 hospitalizations reported in the last 24 hours, he spoke about the importance of mask wearing and what could happen if Ohio fails to slow the spread of COVID-19.
When DeWine issued a “Stay at Home” order on March 23, Ohio had a total of 442 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The accumulative total is now 600 times that number, with 267,356 cases since the state began counting, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Total fatalities from the virus stand at more than 5,600.
“If the current trend continues and cases keep increasing, we will be forced to close restaurants, bars and fitness centers one week from tomorrow,” DeWine said. “I am very well aware of the burden this will place on employees and the owners. But, these are places where it is difficult or impossible to maintain mask-wearing, which we know now is the chief way of slowing this virus.”
DeWine said that gyms, bars and restaurants will be evaluated next week. If the spread of COVID-19 has not slowed, they may be forced to close. He did not specify what constitutes a slowing of the spread.
DeWine also pointed to gatherings such as weddings, banquets and funerals as places where there has been “rampant” spread. He said a new health order would be issued in the next few days placing more restrictions on social gatherings.
“Specifically, open congregate areas can no longer be open,” DeWine said. “This requires everyone to be seated and masked unless they are actively consuming food or drinks and prohibits things, such as dancing and games.”
Portage County has been red, or Level 3, on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System for four straight weeks. That means there is “very high exposure and spread.” Residents in Portage County have been asked to limit activities as much as possible.
“What people do after work and on weekends is contributing to community spread,” said Joseph Diorio, the Portage County health commissioner, last week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance regarding cloth masks on Tuesday, stating cloth masks are able to block virus particles exhaled by the wearer as well as block incoming infectious droplets from others. Previously, the CDC stance was that masks were only effective in preventing infected people from spreading the virus to others.
DeWine thanked “the vast majority” of the universities in Ohio for their decision to go fully remote after Thanksgiving break, but stressed the importance of slowing the spread if the universities want to reopen for the spring semester.
“Unless we dramatically slow the community spread of this virus, our higher education institutions in Ohio may have to remain virtual when school opens in January,” DeWine said. “With widespread COVID, they may have no choice. Again, it’s up to us.”
Kent State will continue operating on campus until Thanksgiving break, which begins Nov. 23. Following that, all classes will be online and students will not return to campus until spring semester. Kent State said in the past that even if the campus were to go completely remote before Thanksgiving break, dorms would remain open to students.
Kent State closed its campus on March 15, eight days before Ohio’s “Stay at Home” order was issued. As of now, Kent State plans to offer a mixture of online and in-person classes in the spring.
Gina Butkovich is a managing editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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