Ohio Governor DeWine reissues statewide mask mandate, consequences for non-compliance

Ohioans are experiencing an uptick in coronavirus cases. Governor DeWine fears that a third wave outbreak is beginning so he delivered a televised address Wednesday night outlining his plan to slow the spread of the virus. DeWine is reissuing a statewide mask order with some provisions. Think of it as Ohio’s mask mandate 2.0.

The spread of the coronavirus is particularly aggressive now in the Midwest. DeWine received favorable reviews for his handling of the first two waves in the spring and summer. He calls the current wave the most critical. He hasn’t addressed Ohioans on the subject since he delivered a televised address about a mask mandate on July 15. A week from today, his coronavirus team will look at the trends and amount of new cases and then decide if additional measures will be necessary. The other provisions include shutting down bars, restaurants, and gyms.

“I am very well aware of the burden this will place on employees and the owners” of bars, restaurants and gyms, he said. “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’s address comes as Ohio is experiencing an exponential increase in the number of coronavirus cases: While it took over three months for the state to report 50,000 COVID-19 cases during the beginning of the pandemic, more recently the state added 50,000 cases over 13 days.

“We had been warned that when it got colder and drier and people were indoors more, the virus would rise up again,” DeWine said, in a 25-minute speech that offered more policy changes than his last Wednesday evening speech, given July 15, before he had issued a statewide mask order.

Comply or everything shuts back down. DeWine will redeploy state employees to enforce compliance, with sanctions for those businesses that don’t follow the mandate. DeWine lists three items in the new mandate. The message is clear – businesses have to enforce the mask mandate in their own establishments or they will be put into a 24-hour time-out.

1. Each retail business will be required to post a face covering requirement sign at all public entrances to the store;

2. Each store will be responsible for ensuring that customers and employees are wearing masks; and

3. A new Retail Compliance Unit, composed of agents led by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, will inspect businesses to ensure compliance. A first violation of this order will bring about a written warning and a second violation will bring about closure of the store for up to 24 hours.

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

Social distancing isn’t enough to stop the outbreak. DeWine put a restriction on social gatherings in April, limiting them to 10 people. He said it isn’t the actual events like weddings or other ceremonies that are the problem – it is the parties and celebrations afterward that spread the virus. The new public health order bans dancing and playing games at social gatherings. Everyone must stay seated and masked except when eating and drinking.

Governor DeWine is an advocate for keeping kids in school instead of virtual learning. He acknowledged the work of K-12 schools and said they are doing a good job during the pandemic. Since some schools have opted to return to virtual learning because of the new wave of cases, he wants to slow the virus so that children stay in school classrooms. College students are a different matter. Most colleges and universities have agreed to not return to in-person classes until after Thanksgiving. If the spread of the virus isn’t dramatically slowed, in-person classes won’t happen until January.

DeWine frames his decision about public health mandates as seizing the opportunity to save lives by moderating behavior. Most states already have some degree of mask mandates but sixteen states do not. Joe Biden has expressed his intention to put into place a national mask mandate. Since he discovered that a national mask mandate is not a constitutional move, he says he will ask governors to put statewide mandates in place. Biden has also declared that he is in favor of another widespread national lockdown.

The Ohio legislature is back in session next week and there is talk of the need to pass bills to keep the governor’s restrictions in check. Republican lawmakers are looking at reining in the governor while Democrat lawmakers are critical that the governor is moving too slowly to shut everything down. Republicans are hoping to spare business owners from the consequences of closing up their businesses. Democrats view DeWine’s wait and see attitude as a cautious move that puts the lives of others at risk – especially health care workers and first responders. Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, a Democrat from Akron, accuses the governor of caving “to politics at the expense of human life.”

The Ohio Hospital Association endorses DeWine’s actions. Hospitals are experiencing being swamped by new patients and the increase is alarming.

“We have reached a defining moment in this pandemic and Ohio hospitals join Gov. DeWine’s call for personal accountability and action to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Mike Abrams, president and chief executive officer.

“The alarming increase in hospitalizations creates a severe strain on health care workers, especially among front-line staff, as hospitals make the necessary personnel shifts to manage these cases. The sooner we all commit to doing the right thing every day, the quicker we will emerge from this pandemic and resume the activities we all long to do,” Abrams said.

Governor DeWine is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t quickly act to mitigate the third wave of coronavirus cases in Ohio. Ohio saw a record of 6,508 new cases on Tuesday. So far, more than 267,350 Ohioans have been infected by the virus, with 5,600 deaths and 21,200 hospitalizations in the state.