Gov. Mike DeWine did an about-face Tuesday on wearing face masks to lessen the spread of coronavirus as Ohio gradually reopens.
After his administration posted online Monday that donning face masks would be mandatory in workplaces and for shoppers returning to stores, the governor and his advisers appeared to change their minds.
Then, early Tuesday evening — a bit over two hours after DeWine’s news briefing ended — the governor’s office said masks generally would be required in the workplace and for store employees.
“Face coverings would still be mandated for employees unless wearing a face covering is not advisable by a health care professional, goes against industry best practices, or is not permitted by federal or state laws and regulations,” DeWine’s office said in a prepared statement.
Dan Tierney, DeWine’s press secretary, said revised online material posted Tuesday afternoon still stating masks were not required for employees in the workplace and stores was in error. The governor’s prepared remarks were silent on the topic, Tierney said.
Given the online material emailed to them during the briefing, reporters believed DeWine also was addressing masks in the workplace in his remarks.
In dropping mask mandates for store customers and others venturing out earlier Tuesday, DeWine said, “In the last 24 hours, it is clear the mandatory mask requirement for people who are shopping, going into retail businesses, is offensive to some of our fellow Ohioans.”
DeWine then said that employers and businesses can require all employees, visitors and customers to wear masks, and that he recommends such action. “I think it will be fairly standard in the workplace,” he added.
Ohio is preparing to reopen several segments of business, industry and commerce in stages over the next few weeks, and the use of masks as well as continued practices of social distancing and sanitizing are key components of that plan.
Also Tuesday, Vinton County, the last untouched county in the state in the coronavirus battle, now has three cases of COVID-19, the Ohio Department of Health reported.
As of Tuesday, the state has 16,769 cases of coronavirus, a 2.7% increase from Monday, including 799 deaths and 3,340 hospitalizations.
Here are the latest local numbers provided by the state:
Summit: At total of 43 deaths, including at least 27 in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. There are 565 confirmed cases, an increase of 51 since Monday, with 218 cumulative hospitalizations. A total of 137 cases are health care workers, with four new new cases since Monday
Stark: One new death reported. A total of 323 cases (12 new), 77 cumulative hospitalizations and 36 deaths.
Portage: Two new deaths reported. A total of 226 cases (five new), 62 cumulative hospitalizations, 35 deaths.
Wayne: One new death reported. A total of 119 cases (five new), 20 cumulative hospitalizations and 23 deaths.
Medina: One new death reported. A total of 162 cases (three more than Sunday’s count), 42 cumulative hospitalizations and 14 deaths.
Ashland: Six cases (none new), one hospitalization, no deaths.
Holmes: First death reported. Five cases (none new), two hospitalizations, one death.
Tuscarawas: 59 cases (two new), 11 hospitalizations (one new), no deaths.
With the partial reopening planned, DeWine said he remains concerned about Ohioans most at risk from “this shared enemy we face” due to their age or underlying health conditions.
About 92% of Ohio’s deaths are among those 60 or older, with half of the deaths occurring among people 80 or older.
The governor said a panel will be formed from business owners recommended by business groups and lawmakers to provide input on fine-tuning Ohio’s reopening plan as it goes forward.
Like a large majority of states, Ohio has failed to meet the federal guideline calling for a 14-day downward trend in the number of coronavirus cases even as its “cautious” reopening awaits.
Ohio also has been lagging among the states in testing, but DeWine says testing will increase nearly six-fold by the end of May due to Ohio-produced materials needed to escalate testing.
Under pressure from open-up-Ohio advocates and those calling for placing public health above economic interests, the governor on Monday outlined his staggered reopening plan.
With about 1 million left unemployed, DeWine said the state must get back to work — but in a way that lessens a feared increase in coronavirus cases after Ohioans have been locked down under a stay-at-home order since March 23.
The plan, dubbed #ResponsibleRestartOhio, leaves a large chunk of Ohio’s economy offline and indefinitely closed.
Led by dine-in restaurants and bars — with the exception of carryout and delivery — a sizable segment of Ohio’s economy remains closed indefinitely.
The list includes day care centers, senior centers, entertainment and recreation venues (including movie theaters and amusement parks), gyms and fitness centers, casinos, fairs and festivals, spectator and recreational sports and campgrounds.
DeWine on April 20 closed physical K-12 classrooms for the rest of the school year after they first were ordered closed March 17.
All gatherings of more than 10 people also will remain forbidden under the gradual reopening.
DeWine’s refusal to reopen all of Ohio for business beginning Friday was met with disdain by majority Ohio House Republicans, with their leader, Speaker Larry Householder, saying their wishes were “disrespected.”
Several business and government groups praised DeWine for his caution, though, with the Ohio Alliance of Mayors complimenting his “measured and thoughtful plan for how we can begin reopening our economy while still prioritizing public health.”
DeWine said it would be “totally irresponsible” to reopen Ohio all at once — and so soon. “If Ohioans go back to business as usual, the curve is going to go straight back up and more will die. I’m not going to do that.”
The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.
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Cases per capita by county