Ohio governor: Masks must be worn statewide, starts Thursday

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A mandatory mask order will be expanded statewide across Ohio to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Wednesday.

The mask mandate takes effect Thursday evening for everyone age 10 and older when they’re out in public or in places where they can’t follow social distancing rules, DeWine said. It will not be required for children under 10 or anyone who has a medical condition that keeps them from wearing a mask.

The Republican governor’s first try at a statewide requirement for wearing masks inside businesses — back in April — drew backlash that led him to rescind that directive the following day, a stutter among the aggressive moves that had won him early praise in his efforts to curb the virus. Mask-wearing also has been a point of contention at the Statehouse, where many Democratic lawmakers have donned masks while many Republican lawmakers have not.

DeWine had resisted calls for a statewide mask order in favor of a more tailored approach, focusing on the counties considered hot spots. Last week, he’d ordered residents in 19 counties, including almost 60% of the state’s population, to wear masks in public.

But he said Wednesday that more counties are seeing increasing case numbers, and that there are signs the rate of increase has slowed in counties where masks were required.

“It looks like wearing the masks is starting to have an effect,” he said.

The new mandate is to be enforced by state and local authorities, not by businesses.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, also a Republican, also issued a mask mandate Wednesday that begins next Monday. Ohio and Indiana follow neighboring Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s mask order is being challenged in court.

Ohio has seen a steady increase in hospitalizations over the past two weeks, rising from 908 patients on July 9 to 1,098 as of Wednesday, DeWine said. Ohio also reported 1,527 more probable and confirmed coronavirus cases, its second-highest number so far, for a total of nearly 79,000 cases and about 3,200 deaths in the state.

DeWine issued a travel advisory that anyone coming into Ohio from a state that has a positive virus testing rate of 15% or higher is recommended to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.

He also said health officials are concerned about safety guidelines not being followed at county fairs across the state. An outbreak of 19 cases has been traced back to a county fair, DeWine said.

“We want fairs to continue, but I spoke with county fair managers today and expressed that they must follow the rules,” he added.