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DeWine Issues New Mask Requirements, Limits On Gatherings For Ohioans

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine extended the state's mask mandate Wednesday evening and said more restrictions are are coming in the following week if coronavirus numbers continue to surge. DeWine has been imploring Ohioans to wear masks since April, as shown in this file photo. [Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]

Updated: 6:54 p.m., Wedensday, Nov. 11, 2020

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced  during a Wednesday evening address to the state new rules to compel mask-wearing. And he warned of more severe measures — such as another shutdown order for Ohio bars, restaurants and gyms — if the coronavirus surge continues.

Ohio businesses will now be required to have signs on all entrances explaining that masks are required, DeWine said.

In addition to this new coronavirus requirement, businesses will have the responsibility of making sure employees and customers are wearing masks. The governor also announced a new “retail compliance unit” charged with making sure businesses are following these requirements, staffed with agents from the Bureau of Worker's Compensation.

“A first violation of this order will bring about a written warning, but a second violation will bring about closure of the store for up to 24 hours,” DeWine said.

Office of Gov. Mike DeWine

DeWine said these new rules are important to stop community spread, which is threatening hospital staffing, school closures, and Ohioans health.

“We are now at the most crucial phase of this pandemic,” he said.

DeWine also warned new public health orders in the coming days will restrict gatherings.

Groups of more than 10 people haven’t been allowed in Ohio since April, but many weddings, funerals and other events have still been occurring. A new order will require people to be seated and masked at such events unless they are actively eating. No dancing or games will be allowed.

For now, bars, restaurants and fitness centers will remain open, the governor said, but he will look at the trends one week from Thursday to determine if such business must be closed to stop what he called the third wave of coronavirus that has spread across the state.

DeWine said he is well aware of the burden being placed on businesses and what another shutdown would mean economically, but said the top priority for everyone in the Buckeye State needs to be keeping fellow Ohioans safe and hospitals open to care for those sick with COVID-19 and other life-threatening illnesses.

Some Ohio schools are shifting back to remote learning due to the increase in community spread, and DeWine said the new requirements are in the hopes that kids will be able to continue going to school in person wherever possible.

But unless virus spread dramatically changes soon, he said, higher education institutions will have to go to 100 percent remote learning when the new semester starts in January. Most college and universities in the state have already agreed to finish the semester remotely after Thanksgiving, he noted.

A vaccine could be distributed to Ohioans as soon as December, said the governor, who began his address with optimism about the latest news from Pfizer’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine phase 3 clinical trial.

“In the first several months our priority will be to get it out to protect the most vulnerable and to protect our essential health workers. We will then be able to move to the general population,” he said.

But without a vaccine yet, the virus is continuing its rampant spread.

“If you don’t know any victims yet, sadly, I expect you will,” DeWine said.

During the first week of November, 104 Ohioans died of COVID-19, the governor reported Wednesday night.

“To those families, please know Ohio grieves with you,” DeWine said.

Community spread is keeping some health care workers from being able to do their jobs, and hospital staffing shortages are already a problem across the state.

“Our healthcare workers are, quite frankly, exhausted,” he said. “They’ve been running a marathon for nine straight months.”

Earlier this week, the governor and Ohio doctors warned staffing shortages may require hospitals to stop providing some less-urgent health care services so remaining workers can focus on COVID-19 patients and other urgent cases.

ideastream's Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158