Gov. Mike DeWine and First Lady Fran DeWine wearing face masks on June 23, 2020.
Gov. Mike DeWine and First Lady Fran DeWine wearing face masks on June 23, 2020. [Office of Gov. DeWine]

Gov. DeWine Mandates Face Masks In Seven Counties

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WOSU) — Gov. Mike DeWine announced the Ohio Department of Health will issue a public health order requiring face masks in public in seven counties where the spread of COVID-19 is considered most severe.

Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Huron, Montgomery and Trumbull are all considered “red alerts” under the state’s Public Health Advisory System, and exhibit “very high exposure and spread” of COVID-19.

“The law is a teacher and the law helps establish the norms in society, and that’s what we hope happens in these seven counties,” DeWine said.

Face masks remain optional for Ohio’s other counties but highly encouraged.

“The earlier that we do things, the more impact that we have,” DeWine said Tuesday. “And so there’s a real opportunity in these other counties to avoid getting to the red level, and with all the things that go with that and the danger that go with it.”

Tuesday’s orders apply to any indoor location other than a residence, as well as people who are outdoors and unable to consistently maintain six-foot social distancing, and while waiting for and riding public transportation. There are exceptions granted for children under 10 years old, and those with physical or developmental disabilities.

Like other health orders, violating the order is considered a misdemeanor, but DeWine says the state isn’t looking to arrest people. Enforcing the mask mandates will fall to state and local officials, not individual businesses.

“It’s not up to the business to enforce it,” says Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. “We want businesses to be cooperative, we want businesses to advise, we want them to share the rules, but we don’t expect a grocery store clerk to enforce the rules.”

In some counties, cities both large and small have already passed local face mask orders of their own. Cleveland, Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus all require coverings in public spaces, with some adding penalties to enforce the rule.

That color code system, which the governor rolled out last week, ranks counties’ risk based indicators like new cases per capita and the rate of hospital admissions. DeWine says the rankings will be updated Wednesday, and at least one county – Franklin – is at risk of graduating to a level four.

“This is what is needed for Ohioans to stay safe, and if we are not able to successfully do this and carry this out, we’re going to see this virus take command again,” DeWine said.

Coronavirus cases have continued to mount in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the Department of Health reported an additional 948 cases and 43 deaths in the last day, bringing the state’s totals to 58,904 cases and 2,970 deaths.

Hospitalizations and ICU admissions also keep trending upwards, with 134 more hospitalizations and 24 more ICU admissions since Monday.

Although more young people are contracting COVID-19, DeWine emphasized that the biggest health impacts and mortality will be passed on to those who are highest-risk, no matter who contracts the disease first. DeWine says health commissioners report the disease is spreading widely from family gatherings, parties, funerals and birthday parties, as well as at tourist destinations and churches.

On Monday, state Rep. Stephanie Howse, the president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, announced that she tested positive for COVID-19 but has so far exhibited mild symptoms.