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Gov. Mike DeWine Implores Ohioans: Wear Masks To Stop COVID-19

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine talks with ideastream's The Sound of Ideas via Skype on Friday. [The Ohio Channel]
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine talks with ideastream's The Sound of Ideas via Skype on Friday.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine hasn’t ruled out placing the state’s entire population under coronavirus mask requirements. But state health orders are difficult to enforce, he said, and he continues to urge Ohioans to don masks in public voluntarily.

“This is a crucial time. I’m watching these numbers go the wrong way, and we’ve got to get control of it,” DeWine told ideastream Friday on the Sound of Ideas Reporters' Roundtable. “But the people, 11.7 million people in Ohio, have got to be with us on that.”

The state requires employees of public-facing businesses to wear masks. In late April, the Republican governor reversed a guideline that customers do so, too. So far, DeWine has taken a county-by-county approach to requiring the public at large to wear facial coverings.

Yesterday the governor took Cuyahoga County off the “watch list” for the state’s highest COVID-19 risk status. But Cuyahoga remains among the 19 counties at Level 3 risk, placing 60 percent of Ohioans under state mask mandates.

“I have not ruled out adding the additional 40 percent of the state,” DeWine said.

COVID-19 is spreading in bars, churches and large neighborhood gatherings of more than 100 people, DeWine said. But there aren’t enough police and health officials to break up all those groups, he said. State liquor control agents have cited a number of bars, and DeWine said his administration is planning more state-level enforcement of health orders.


Daily New Confirmed & Probable COVID-19 Cases In Ohio

Some local governments have tried to add teeth of their own to the governor’s orders. This week, Cleveland City Council voted to impose $25 fines, after a warning, on mask requirement scofflaws in the city.

Although the median age of people who have died with COVID-19 is 80, dozens of people under the age of 50 have also lost their lives, according to the Ohio Department of Health. More young people are now contracting the virus, presenting a risk to themselves and of spreading it to older relatives, DeWine said.

“We do have, certainly, examples of young people who have died,” he said. “And what I think is sometimes forgotten is all the people who get really, really sick.”

The state is seeing a troubling trend, he said. As the number of coronavirus tests increases, so has the percentage of those who test positive. Ohio has focused its state-led testing efforts in the Cincinnati and Columbus areas, DeWine said. But he told SOI he wants the National Guard to make sure that smaller cities have access to state tests, too.

“We’ve got to get out to the Mansfields, the Limas, the Athens,” he said.

The state government has hired 150 people to help local health departments trace the spread of COVID-19, DeWine said. But some people — particularly younger ones — have not been willing to share information, frustrating health officials’ efforts, he said. The governor pled for Ohioans to cooperate with COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.

“If we could get 80 percent of the people who are out in public to wear a mask, and if people would avoid those gatherings of more than 10 people, and if they would keep social distance, we could knock this thing on the head,” De Wine said. “It’s that simple. It’s not complex what we have to do. These are things we simply have to do, and if we don’t do them, our fall is going to be hell.”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.