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15 days and 19,259 cases later, DeWine issues mask mandate

When asked if he wishes he'd issued the mandate earlier in the pandemic, the governor said he always "felt masks would make a difference," but, it's his job as governor to "bring Ohioans along on this journey."
Ohio mask 07232020
(Getty Images)

COLUMBUS — After four months of flirting with a statewide mask mandate, begging Ohioans to wear face coverings and flip-flopping on policy, Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order requiring all Ohioans to wear masks in public in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The order becomes official today at 6 p.m.

The news came as Ohio marked its 15th consecutive day of adding more than 1,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases for an additional 19,259 cases. With an average of 1,284 cases per day, a new case was diagnosed in Ohio just about every minute since July 7.

So far in July, the state has added 26,187 new cases.

The development also followed by one day the arrest of Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder for bribery. Householder, a Republican, has been a vocal critic of DeWine's handling of the pandemic and even tried to ban mask mandates. He personally eschewed mask-wearing although he was photographed wearing one after his appearance in court Tuesday.

After months of passing the buck to local leaders and business owners, the political stakes of the mask mandate decision are low for DeWine, who has feared Ohioans would not respond well to being told what to do. 

Masks are already required in stores like Walmart and Marc's. Cities and counties from Columbus to Youngstown have already issued local mask mandates. With Indiana's Wednesday announcement, all neighboring states require wearing masks in public. Governors who previously decried the mandates have caved to the effectiveness of masks after experiencing COVID-19 surges in their states.

Even President Donald Trump — in his first coronavirus briefing in three months — espoused the benefits of masks Tuesday,

Still, if you've been following the state's politicized mask drama, you might wonder, "What are the odds DeWine reverses his order by the weekend?"

Probably not very likely. But it's been an ordeal.

With reopening on the horizon in late April, DeWine issued an order requiring masks in public. During his April 28 briefing, however, DeWine walked it back. He explained he was contacted by a woman with an autistic child who could not wear a mask. 

To be clear, Wednesday's mandate — as well as similar mandates in other states — contains exemptions for medical conditions.

When pressed on his reasoning in late April, DeWine said some Ohioans have a philosophical opposition to the government telling them what to do and thus found the requirement "offensive."

DeWine did, however, require masks for employees at work and permitted businesses to make their own mask policies. 

Still, journalists pressed DeWine at state briefings, reporting his requests weren't heeded in public spaces across the state. 

On July 3, DeWine issued the state's county-by-county coronavirus alert system, which ranked counties in four levels but did not make restrictions for counties experiencing coronavirus spread — until four days later, when he mandated masks for counties that reach Level 3 (red) on the advisory map.

After the state set new records each week for new cases in July, DeWine abruptly canceled a Tuesday state briefing July 14 and scheduled an unorthodox Wednesday evening fireside-chat in which he pleaded Ohioans to wear masks. 

As of July 17, 60 percent of Ohioans were required to wear masks, since their counties had reached Level 3.

When asked if he wishes he'd issued the mandate earlier in the pandemic, DeWine said he always "felt masks would make a difference," but, it's his job as governor to "bring Ohioans along on this journey."

Youngstown's mask mandate went into effect Monday.

Since then, Health Commissioner Erin Bishop said the health department — which received masks from Proctor and Gamble — distributed more than 20,000 masks to businesses, housing developments and apartments.

Bishop said the health department hasn’t gotten any complaints so far about the mask mandate, but many businesses are grateful to hand out masks to customers that enter the building. 

“When push comes to shove, more people have them on,” Bishop said. “It’s real simple.”

Anyone in need of a mask can pick one up from the health department. Visitors can get a mask from the security guard without entering the building. 

The mask mandate wasn't the only order DeWine issued Wednesday. He also issued a travel advisory that strongly recommends people traveling to and from states with surging coronavirus cases self-quarantine for two weeks.

States with 15 percent positivity rates are on the list. Currently, that includes: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, Puerto Rico, South Carolina and Texas.

"We know all of these things are sacrifices," said DeWine, "But we hope these are short-term sacrifices."

Other news:

• According to the latest figures Wednesday from the Ohio Department of Health, the state is reporting 74,409 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. There have been 2,187 confirmed cases in Mahoning County; 1,210 in Trumbull County; and 1,480 in Columbiana County.

• Statewide, there have been 2,976 confirmed deaths, including 247 in Mahoning County; 85 in Trumbull; and 62 in Columbiana. Mahoning County's 247 reported COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday was fourth among Ohio's 88 counties; Franklin County had the most with 478.

• In nearby counties: Stark, 1,412 cases and 121 deaths; Portage, 586 cases and 59 deaths; and Ashtabula, 489 cases and 44 deaths.

• After months of begging Ohioans to wear face coverings, Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order mandating all Ohioans wear masks in public Wednesday. Before the order, only residents of counties in Level 3 (red) of the state's alert system are required to wear masks. The new mask requirement goes into effect today at 6 p.m.

• According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Wednesday, there are 103,396 COVID-19 cases in the state which have led to 7,063 deaths. The state said the recovery rate is 75 percent. There have been 276 cases in Mercer County and 9 deaths; 257 cases in Lawrence County and 9 deaths.

ONE Health Ohio will offer drive-thru COVID-19 testing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday (July 29) at the Trumbull Community Action Program in Warren. Participants should be at least 10 years old and bring their ID and insurance card. For preregistration call 330-884-6122.

•  Youngstown City School District students, their families and district staff can get tested for coronavirus next week. QuickMED Urgent Care of Youngstown will conduct pop-up virus testing sites Thursday (July 30) at Chaney High School and July 31 at East High School. Testing for adults and staff is set for 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. both days.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown will introduce a Senate resolution to declare racism a public health crisis, he announced Wednesday. Sens. Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Kamala Harris, D-CA, join Brown in leading the resolution.

• Communities' reckoning with racism in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd continues Sunday with a pair of events in Canfield and Poland. On Sunday, a Black Lives Matter rally will take place in Canfield at 11 a.m. while Poland United Methodist Church will host an event titled "Stories of Racism in the Valley" at 5 p.m.

• The Next Steps Coalition has scheduled a second town hall meeting on "Policing in the Valley" for July 28 at 6 p.m. The 90-minute event will be livestreamed and individuals can submit questions to police officials online.

Jess Hardin

About the Author: Jess Hardin

Jess Hardin is a reporter for Mahoning Matters. She grew up in Pittsburgh and last worked at The Vindicator. Jess graduated from Georgetown University.
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