An alarming uptick in Ohio coronavirus numbers continued into the Independence Day weekend. But while Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday praised orders in hard-hit Ohio cities to require masks in public places, he wouldn’t impose one statewide — at least not yet.
Due to technical problems, new 24-hour data on the spread of coronavirus were unavailable Thursday, but over the past two weeks there has been a sharp spike in new cases. And while more Ohioans are being tested, the portion of them testing positive is not going down, indicating that increased testing is not solely responsible for the increase in cases.
DeWine announced a new system of seven metrics to determine how at-risk a county is to the pandemic. He said that while experts believe there is community spread in all 88 counties, 53 of them are at alert level 1, or have a moderate level of risk.
Another 28 counties are at alert level 2, based on the new metrics, which look at such statistics as new cases per capita, new cases from non-congregate settings as well as the numbers of emergency-room visits and hospital admissions for people who have coronavirus symptoms.
Seven Ohio counties are at alert level 3, the second-highest.
They include Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Montgomery, Butler, Trumbull and Huron counties.
Franklin County, where DeWine’s press conference was taking place, was at alert level 3 and roaring toward alert level 4 because of what DeWine called “explosive” growth in the number of cases over the past two weeks.
“We are at a crisis stage in Ohio,” DeWine said.
And yet he shied away from ordering people to wear masks in a state where social distancing has been flouted in places such as Put-in-Bay and unmasked Karaoke is happening inside crowded Columbus bars.
There has been some understandable confusion concerning the usefulness of masks.
Early in the pandemic, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease control recommended against mask wearing.
Some experts said that was because a lack of testing resulted in a poor understanding of the disease. Others said there was a concern that a public rush on surgical masks and N95 respirators would make them unavailable to the health professionals who needed them.
But evidence soon developed that widespread mask wearing is an effective tool in limiting the spread of the coronavirus. However, President Donald Trump has added to the confusion, refusing to wear a mask in public and suggesting that some people wear them as a protest against his presidency.
Some are arguing that mask wearing makes both health and economic sense. Forbes reported earlier this week that investment bank Goldman Sachs had completed research showing that a national mask order would save $1 trillion for the U.S. economy.
On April 27, DeWine ordered that masks must be worn in public spaces such as stores — both by employees and customers. But the following day, he backtracked, saying that only employees had to wear them.
“It became clear to me that that was just a bridge too far. People were not going to accept the government telling them what to do,” he said on one of the Sunday news shows, according to Politico.
As mayors of hot spot cities such as Dayon and Columbus implement mask orders, DeWine praised them, saying, “I want to thank them,” and “It’s the right thing to do.”
But, he said, at the state level mask wearing would only be a “strong recommendation.”
And while Lt. Gov. Jon Husted called masking “armor to get us through the fight,” he said that some people can’t wear masks and sometimes when people try to enforce mask orders, it’s led to violence by people who refuse to obey them.
But after DeWine said he was not issuing a statewide order for masks, he was pressed on the matter. Wasn’t it too late to order masks after a hot spot emerges? Isn’t mask wearing intended to keep them from happening in the first place?
DeWine agreed, and said an Ohio mask requirement aat a later date isn’t out of the question.
“I am not ruling out additional orders,” he said. “Please don’t think I don’t think this isn’t a crisis … it’s a crisis. Wear a mask, keep a distance.”
This story shared for republication by, and with permission from, the Ohio Capital Journal, an independent, nonprofit news organization. For more information go to www.ohiocapitaljournal.com
Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017.