In a statewide address Wednesday evening, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine expanded the statewide mask order issued July 23 and said that if Covid-19 cases continue to surge over the next week, he'll be forced to close bars, restaurants and fitness centers, where the virus is known to spread.
Lasting just under 30 minutes, the remarks were both a recap of Ohio's efforts to combat the coronavirus since March and an exhortation that Ohioans go "back to basics": DeWine implored the state's residents to wear masks, wash hands, maintain social distancing, and avoid social gatherings. He asked that Ohioans stay home whenever possible and to avoid any unnecessary risk.
The address comes as Ohio reaches what former state health director Dr. Amy Acton predicted would be its "peak surge" of 6,000-8,000 cases per day. Tuesday, Ohio shattered its previous record of daily cases when it tallied more than 6,500 new cases. Wednesday's total was 5,874, the second-highest daily total yet.
The exponential rise in cases has been accompanied by increases in hospitalizations and deaths. Wednesday brought 76 new deaths in the state, far surpassing recent daily totals and the most since Oct. 2. Ohio set a record number of new hospitalizations Tuesday as well, with 386. Currently, 2,747 Ohioans are hospitalized with the virus, far more than during the summer surge, straining the capacity of the state's medical facilities and the endurance of healthcare workers. DeWine said the question in Ohio is no longer the supply of PPE, but the "enormous human" toll on medical personnel.
"They've been running a marathon for nine straight months," DeWine said. "Today, it's like they're starting race all over again."
Given these stark numbers, some Ohio lawmakers had hoped that DeWine would respond more aggressively this evening, with a "science-based" approach that would presumably have entailed some renewed lockdown. Instead, DeWine tried once again to appeal to Ohioans' better angels.
He said that changes in behavior would be necessary to protect medical workers and every Ohioans' friends and families. All of the state's 88 counties now have a high rate of spread.
While DeWine praised most retail businesses for following the rules, he said at some, mask wearing has been lacking. Wearing masks remains the "easiest, most cost-effective" way to prevent the spread.
And so DeWine reissued the existing statewide mask order with three additional components. All businesses must now place signs at entrances advising patrons that face coverings are required; stores will be responsible for ensuring that customers and employees comply with the mask order; and a new "retail compliance unit" will be formed to enforce the rule. The penalty for a first violation will be a written warning, DeWine said. The second will be a short-term closure of the business.
DeWine stressed that indoor gatherings of more than 10 people were still prohibited and that in the coming days, new rules would be issued regarding banquets, weddings and social gatherings following funerals, where the virus has spread. Among other things, dancing and games will be prohibited. (This effectively cancels weddings.)
DeWine quoted both Martin Luther King Jr. and Winston Churchill in his appeal to Ohioans, and concluded by asking the state's residents to follow the 'golden rule': treat others as you wish to be treated.
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