DeWine issues new mask order, may close restaurants, bars and gyms

Ohio at ‘most crucial phase of this pandemic’

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Gov. Mike DeWine issued a new, more stringent, face mask order Wednesday night and said the state next week will look at closing restaurants, bars and fitness centers for a second time if COVID-19 trends continue.

Wednesday had the second-highest number of cases following Tuesday’s record-breaking hospitalizations and cases in Ohio’s battle against the coronavirus. If the virus surge doesn’t abate, DeWine said he “will be forced to close restaurants, bars and fitness centers.”

More than 6,500 daily cases were reported Tuesday, passing the previous record by nearly 1,000 cases. It was the first time Ohio recorded more than 6,000 cases in a day and is almost double the 21-day average of 3,612. Tuesday also was the first time Ohio passed 300 hospitalizations in a day, with 386. On Wednesday, new cases reached nearly 5,900.

“We are now at the most crucial phase of this pandemic. We are in the midst of the third wave in Ohio,” DeWine said. “This surge is much more intense, widespread and dangerous.”

The issue of whether to shut down businesses such as restaurants, bars and gyms will be visited one week from Thursday, he said.

The state will reissue its mask order, but with three new provisions: each business will be required to post a sign about the mask requirement at all public entrances; each business will be responsible for ensuring that employees and customers wear masks; and a new retail compliance unit under the Bureau of Workers' Compensation will inspect businesses. The first violation of this order will mean a written warning, but a second violation would mean the business would be shut down for up to 24 hours, DeWine said.

“We know that masks work. It is the easiest, most cost-effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19,” DeWine said.

“Each Ohioan who goes out to shop, they have the right to know that whatever store they enter … that the people they encounter in that store will all be wearing a mask,” he said.

“We must do this. We must do this to protect our front line workers,” DeWine said.

Ohio remains in a state of emergency over the coronavirus.

While the second uptick in the summer hit mostly urban areas, no parts of Ohio are spared now.

“At this point every single one of our 88 counties has a high rate of virus spread,” DeWine said.

For the second time in four months, DeWine used a statewide televised address to plead with Ohioans to fight the coronavirus by following the basic guidelines — hand washing, social distancing and mask wearing. He also made a public appeal in July when virus cases were climbing.

DeWine reminded his audience it was Veterans Day, and that throughout history each generation of Americans has faced challenges and been asked to lay down their lives for the good of the nation. “Today, we all must do something far less dramatic — wear a mask so that your friends, neighbors and family members might live. …

“Please don’t attend that gathering you were invited to, stay home when you can and work from home if you can.”

Health experts are concerned about the spike in cases and hospitalizations as Ohio heads into colder weather and the holiday season when indoor gatherings are likely to spread the virus among friends and family. This time of year is the flu season as well. Earlier this week, hospital administrators across the state warned that staff shortages could lead to compromised care for the sick and injured.

“Hospitals are functioning as if at the peak of the flu season in January. But unlike the flu, when personnel know cases will begin to drop in late winter, early spring, these new COVID cases aren’t trending down. It is taking an enormous human toll on health care workers,” the governor said.

DeWine said that while some say the rise in cases is because of testing increases, that is not the whole story. “The fact is, testing has not even doubled but cases have gone up almost four times. …

“The virus threatens our ability to keep grandparents safe in nursing homes, hospitals functioning, businesses open and citizens working.”

Although a vaccine could be available as early as December, the priority would be for it to go first to the most vulnerable and essential health workers before moving to the general population. “As we wait for the vaccine, we have so much to protect,” DeWine said.

The governor thanked the vast majority of Ohio colleges and universities that agreed to not return to in-person classes after Thanksgiving, and to finish the semester remotely.

He also said the surge is threatening the ability of school districts to keep teachers in the classroom.

“It is up to all of us. What we do in our communities impacts if our kids will be able to stay in school,” he said.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the governor reminded Ohioans that when someone with whom they don’t live enters their home, it puts everyone they live with at risk.

“None of us could easily forgive ourselves if we learned that a loved one contracted the virus because we had it and did not know it,” DeWine said. “It’s not worth the chance.”

About the Author