File-Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther

In this Dec. 23, 2020, file photo, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther speaks at a news conference in Columbus, Ohio.

(The Center Square) – Masks are returning in Ohio’s largest city as Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther has announced a new mandate for indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status.

Ginther said the rapid rise of COVID-19 numbers in the city requires city government to take action. He said he will issue an executive order requiring masks in all indoor spaces as of Friday.

“Sadly, far too many remain unvaccinated. Without a sufficiently high vaccination rate, it continues to linger and evolve. New cases on the rise. Hospitalizations are on the rise, and the strain on our medical and public health professionals has reached a breaking point,” Ginther said Wednesday. “This isn’t about shutting down and giving up. This is about keeping Columbus safe and open for business.”

The order will apply to schools, libraries, gyms, restaurants and stores.

Columbus suburbs Whitehall and Bexley also announced Wednesday they will issue executive orders Friday requiring masks in indoor spaces. Other cities around the state, both large and small, have enacted similar ordinances in recent weeks.

The General Assembly restricted mandates throughout the state with the passage of Senate Bill 22, which limited the governor, the Ohio Department of Health and local health departments from issuing new orders.

City councils, however, still have the authority to issues mandates, and Ginther said Wednesday he plans to work with the council to enact the Columbus mandate by ordinance.

The city’s mandate comes as Ohio’s new COVID-19 case number reached nearly 7,000 on Wednesday, the highest number since late January. Hospitalizations reached 457, but there were no deaths in the past 24 hours and 18 in the past 21 days.

Regional Editor

An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.