COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine announced a new public health order on Tuesday to require that people wear masks in the seven “red” counties that have been hit the hardest by recent coronavirus infections.
The order applies to the counties that are designated as “red” — which are under a Level 3 public emergency, meaning residents are urged to limit travel. The counties placed under the red alert are Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Huron, Montgomery and Trumbull.
Allen County is at a Level 2, while surrounding counties are at Level 1.
The Ohio Department of Health order will be effective at 6 p.m. Wednesday, DeWine said during his Tuesday coronavirus briefing.
The masks will especially need to be worn inside public spaces such as restaurants, bars and stores. People who violate the orders can be punished with a misdemeanor charge. Local authorities will enforce it, DeWine said.
But, DeWine said, “We’re not looking to see a lot of people arrested. That’s not the idea at all. The idea is this is the norm. This is what is needed for Ohioans to stay safe.”
DeWine’s announcement is a change from his position last week, when he praised Ohio cities experiencing a surge that ordered mask-wearing in the absence of statewide orders. The governor made it clear as he unveiled the new alert system that local governments could act on the information as they saw fit, and that the alert system wasn’t a mandate.
He also encouraged cities to enact mask requirements. For instance, he announced that Cleveland’s requirement was “the right move.”
It’s unclear what changed his mind.
DeWine’s press secretary, Dan Tierney, said after the announcement that the state order will be tied to being at a Level 3 or red public emergency. Once counties move to lower levels, masks won’t be required, but if a city mayor wants to implement requirements in city limits, they’re allowed to do so.
“This is complementary,” Tierney said, not a situation in which the governor is usurping local orders that have already been made.
DeWine said that part of the reason he’s enacting the mask-wearing requirement now — when in the past he has resisted it — is that he believes the public is now ready.
“We are in a much more dangerous time. And we’re at a point in time when Ohioans — when they look at Texas, when they look at Florida — they’re saying, ‘We do not want to go there. We are going to accept that seven counties that are red, that wearing a mask is imperative.‘”
DeWine said that masks will not be required for children under age 10.
Other exceptions to the mask requirement will be for people working in environments in which a mask would impose a safety risk or people communicating with the hearing impaired.
People who have medical issues, such as high sensitivity due to autism, do not have to wear them.
People who are exercising — such as running or riding a bike — also will be exempt.
DeWine said the requirement will dovetail well with the state guidelines on the reopening of schools in the fall, in which teachers and staff will be required to wear masks. For children, mask wearing is strongly recommended for children in grades 3 and up.
“These orders really kind of go hand-in-hand with what experts tell us,” DeWine said. “You saw experts issue a statement yesterday about the importance of wearing a mask and how far these droplets can actually go.”
On Monday, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Hospital Association wrote a letter to the American public, urging them to wear masks.
“We are not powerless in this public health crisis, and we can defeat it in the same way we defeated previous threats to public health—by allowing science and evidence to shape our decisions and inform our actions,” the letter said.