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Statewide mask mandate to take effect as virus cases hit 80K

July 23, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2019, file photo, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks about his plans for the coming year during an interview at the Governor's Residence in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio's Republican governor was hailed as prophetic for his decisive steps to shut down schools and stop the state's presidential primary election early during the coronavirus outbreak. Since then, he's found navigating a path out of the state's pandemic shutdown to be a bumpy one. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2019, file photo, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks about his plans for the coming year during an interview at the Governor's Residence in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio's Republican governor was hailed as prophetic for his decisive steps to shut down schools and stop the state's presidential primary election early during the coronavirus outbreak. Since then, he's found navigating a path out of the state's pandemic shutdown to be a bumpy one. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Hours before a statewide mask mandate was to go into effect Thursday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 1,444 reported daily cases — a number higher than the state’s 21-day average.

Gov. Mike DeWine designated 23 counties in Ohio as red on the state’s color-coded alert system Thursday. Those counties continue to show high positivity rates and had an increase in the number of residents seeking treatment for virus-related symptoms, DeWine said.

Athens County, originally on the state’s watchlist, was moved down and Allen County took its place. DeWine says the latter has seen 23% of the county’s total number of cases just in the past two weeks.

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The governor continued to reiterate that new cases are being traced back to community spreading and not congregate settings like churches. Even with that, DeWine said officials have reported outbreaks in bars across the state’s major cities: Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.

The statewide mask order that goes into effect 6 p.m. Thursday is necessary to slow the growth of the virus, officials said, and follows experts’ guidance that widespread mask-wearing over a month or six weeks could put a severe crimp in the virus.

Mandatory mask orders were already in place in 19 at-risk Ohio counties when DeWine ordered a statewide mask mandate Wednesday after he had resisted calls for the order in favor of a more tailored approach.

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.

Meanwhile, virus cases have surged through July as the state reopened many businesses and in some parts of Ohio crowds ignored social distancing guidelines.

Ohio has reported more than 80,000 confirmed and probable cases and more than 3,200 deaths. Many of the latter are among nursing home residents.

The economic impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, as the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported Thursday that 1.5 million claims for unemployment compensation have been filed in the past 18 weeks, including about 30,000 last week. The total is more than the previous three years of claims.

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.