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Ohio governor would issue mask mandate if law allowed

September 14, 2021 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday said he would have issued a statewide mask mandate to slow spiking cases of the coronavirus if the Legislature hadn’t tied his hands through a strict restriction on public health orders.

DeWine, a Republican, said he fears a fight with fellow GOP lawmakers, including one that might end up in court, could cause confusion at the worst time.

“I’m afraid what would happen is we would slide backwards and we would go the wrong way instead of the right way,” DeWine said.

DeWine, among the most aggressive of governors at the outset of the pandemic, has cited the restrictive legislation among his reasons for not imposing new mandates, as well as a belief that “the vast majority of people” nearly 18 months into the crisis want to make their own decisions.

DeWine made his comments as the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association called on eligible people to get vaccinated and to wear masks, particularly in schools. Leaders of the state’s six children’s hospitals said sick children are flooding hospitals and putting an unprecedented strain on providers. In some places, children with non-COVID-19 problems are forced to wait for hours or in some cases are simply leaving because of the overcrowding, medical officials said.

“Our inpatient numbers are the highest they’ve been during the pandemic for COVID positive children,” said Dr. Patty Manning, Chief of Staff, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“Our ICU numbers are the highest they’ve been for this entire pandemic,” she said. “Our children on ventilators with COVID are the highest they’ve been for this entire pandemic.”

DeWine, choking up with memories of taking his own children to hospitals, called those stories “gut-wrenching.”

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio has risen over the past two weeks from 4,460.71 new cases per day on Aug. 29 to 6,721.57 new cases per day on Sept. 12, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 6.2 million Ohioans, or 53% of the population, have started the coronavirus vaccine process, according to the state Health Department. About 5.7 million people, or 49% of the population, have completed the process.

Also this week, the Cincinnati school district announced it will require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Staffers who do not receive a vaccine will have to be tested weekly, the Cincinnati Board of Education said Monday night.

The district, the third-largest in Ohio after Columbus and Cleveland, has about 6,500 full- and part-time employees serving 36,000 students. It’s the first major Ohio district to approve a vaccination mandate.

Under the policy, district employees will need to submit proof of vaccination or a request for medical or religious exemption by Oct. 1. They also will need to submit proof of the second dose of the vaccine, if applicable, by Nov. 1.