(The Center Square) – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is doubling down on a mask mandate, and the state is launching a new unit to make sure businesses comply with the requirement.
The move comes as Ohio faces a record number of hospitalizations and intensive care admissions because of COVID-19. Roughly 3,000 Ohioans are hospitalized, including more than 700 people in the ICU, and during the first week of November, 104 Ohioans with the virus died.
The governor said the state may force bars and restaurants to close if the number of cases does not decrease.
“With this new wave of COVID-19, the onset of flu season, and an already-exhausted group of healthcare workers, there are serious concerns that there won’t be enough people to fully staff our health care facilities in the next few weeks,” DeWine said in a news release.
“If we don’t change this, Ohio won’t be able to provide appropriate care for COVID patients or for Ohioans who require other emergency care for things like accidents, strokes, and heart attacks,” DeWine added. “Hospitals will again be forced to postpone important, but less urgent, care.”
At the end of September, Ohio averaged less than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per day. This week, the Buckeye State saw more than 6,500 new cases in a single day.
Under the revised mask order, the Ohio Department of Health will require stores to post signs about the face mask mandate, and stores will also be responsible for ensuring that customers and employees are wearing masks.
Meanwhile, agents from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation will head up a new Retail Compliance Unit to inspect stores to ensure they are abiding by the mandate. Stores will receive a written warning for their first violation, while they could be closed for 24 hours for their second violation.
“As we wait for the vaccine, which could come as soon as December, we have so much to protect,” DeWine said. “What each Ohioan does in his or her own life impacts every citizen and every place we desperately want and need to keep open – our schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and businesses.”
As part of a separate order for social gatherings, the Ohio Department of Health will put in place new social activities restrictions. Under the order, open congregate areas will no longer be permitted to open, and everyone will be required to be seated and masked unless they are actively consuming food or drinks.
Bars, restaurants and fitness centers may remain open, but officials will reevaluate the decision next week.
“If the current trend continues and cases keep increasing, we will be forced to make these closures,” DeWine said. “I am very well aware of the burden this will place on employees and owners, but these are places where it is difficult or impossible to maintain mask-wearing, which we know now is the chief way of slowing this virus.”