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DeWine toughens mask mandate

Businesses that refuse to ensure customers and employees are responsibly adhering to the state’s mask mandate will be closed down for 24 hours under one of several new measures Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is taking to curb the high spread of the coronavirus.

Businesses will get one written warning. On the second violation, the state will close the establishment for up to 24 hours. The health order was not posted on the Ohio Department of Health’s website for closer examination following the Wednesday briefing. It is not clear what would happen on a third or subsequent violation.

DeWine is creating a “retail compliance unit” through the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, which will inspect establishments to ensure compliance, he said.

While most businesses, employees and customers have followed mask-wearing guidelines, some have not, DeWine said. Before the announcement Wednesday, the state and local health departments had very few ways to enforce the mandate.

And, if the record-setting case increases in the past few weeks — a record was set Tuesday when more than 6,500 cases were reported — don’t start trending down, DeWine said he will be forced to close bars, restaurants and fitness centers. De- Wine will make the decision one week from today, he said.

DeWine said he understands how difficult the decision to close the establishments will be on owners and employees, but it is difficult, if not impossible, for appropriate mask wearing. And wearing a mask is the “chief way” to stop the spread, DeWine said.

DeWine urged people to wear their masks, and said there is evidence that increased mask wearing and the avoidance of social gatherings stopped the virus waves from getting out of hand in the spring and summer.

He asked people not to host events and not to attend if invited. While ceremonies can be conducted safely, the parties afterward and informal get-togethers are a major cause of spread.

Though a 10-person limit to gatherings is still in effect, it has gone ignored in numerous scenarios, De-Wine said. DeWine is issuing an order in a few days that will prohibit dancing and games, open congregation and standing, and require masks unless someone is actively drinking or eating.

DeWine warned that schools may not be able to offer in-person instruction if the community spread is so bad that teachers and other school workers can’t come to work.

A “moral obligation” exists to follow these protocols, DeWine said. Without following precautions, no one can be certain that they won’t catch the virus and pass it on to someone who could die from it, perhaps a loved one, DeWine said.

“Too many of our fellow citizens are dying,” DeWine said.

DeWine said increased cases are not due to increased testing. While testing has doubled, cases have increased by a factor of four. Hospitalizations, intensive care stays and deaths also are on the rise, DeWine said.

The state is expected today to update the public health advisory system.

The state reported 76 new deaths Wednesday, and six of them were in Mahoning County, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

COVID-19 by the numbers

The number of cases, changes in cases and deaths in counties in the region and statewide as of Wednesday:

County Cases Change since Change since Deaths

yesterday last week

Trumbull 3,301 +67 +598 139

Mahoning 4,945 +111 +626 293

Columbiana 2,569 +23 +233 88

Ohio 267,356 +5,874 +37,147 5,623

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Health

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