COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday relaxed his order on mandatory face coverings in businesses for employees and customers, saying that after receiving input on his decision, mask-wearing will be recommended but not required.
DeWine and Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said they still believe strongly that masks should be worn, but they recognized that the order was off-putting to many Ohioans who saw it as “one government mandate too far,” the governor said.
“I heard from a lot of different people who felt that, ‘I may wear a mask, or I may not wear a mask, but the government should not be telling me what to do,’” DeWine said.
The first protocol on DeWine’s online list for businesses starting to reopen now says: “Recommend face coverings for employees and clients/customers.”
On Monday, the governor said: “No masks, no work, no service, no exception.”
The turnaround was the biggest concession the Republican governor has made to public opinion during the coronavirus pandemic, a time period which saw him close schools, bars and restaurants and dramatically limit public gatherings earlier than almost any governor in the nation.
Those decisions angered many at the time, but later won DeWine praise for acting quickly to slow the spread of COVID-19.
DeWine said businesses can still make mask-wearing a requirement for employees or customers.
DeWine also said Tuesday he’s seeking input from groups on how to reopen restaurants as well as barber shops and salons.
His announcement on receiving input from restaurants comes as the House Speaker said DeWine’s plan for when to reopen Ohio’s economy “disrespected” the wishes of fellow GOP lawmakers.
Lawmakers are frustrated that small businesses can’t reopen until May 12 even though national chain competitors haven’t had to shut their doors, Rep. Larry Householder said in a Monday night announcement.
“As long as small retailers continue to be shut down while national chains are allowed to remain open, government is assisting in the demise of many great small businesses,” Householder said. “The big get bigger and the small go away.”
Householder said DeWine’s administration hasn’t been willing to work with lawmakers on the issue.
“Our members feel disrespected that their opinions have been largely disregarded by the Administration,” Householder said.
But six major business groups, including the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants and the Ohio chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, are backing DeWine’s plan. An exception: the Ohio Restaurant Association, which wants the option of dine-in service to begin on May 15.
DeWine hasn’t set a timeline for bars, restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses that attract crowds to reopen.
DeWine’s plan, announced Monday, allows many health care offices to reopen Friday, followed by construction companies, manufacturers and distributors and offices on Monday.
Masks will become standard for the foreseeable future, whether at the office, grocery or on the assembly line, DeWine said.
In other coronavirus-related developments:
The state has 799 positive or confirmed deaths, and more than 16,700 cases, including more than 3,300 hospitalizations, the Ohio Health Department reported Tuesday.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.