COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Gov. Mike DeWine beseeched Ohioans on Wednesday to take the surging coronavirus spread seriously, issuing new orders on mask enforcement in businesses, gatherings across the state and threatening to close bars, restaurants and fitness centers if cases continue to rise.
"Throughout our country's history, each generation has faced unique sacrifices," DeWine said in the statewide address. "Today, we all must do something far less dramatic but very important: wear a mask so your friends and family members can live."
DeWine shifted the authority of mask enforcement from the local counties to the state. The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation will be responsible for inspections across the 88 counties. If a business receives more than one violation it will have to close for 24 hours.
"We must do this to protect our frontline workers," DeWine said. "Every retail employee has the right to work in an environment where it is as safe as can be."
DeWine, 73, who has been elected to almost every position in Ohio during a 40-year political career, is also requiring businesses to display 'No Mask, No Service' signs and to refuse service to customers who don't comply.
But the governor's orders Wednesday were not as far-reaching as in March, when Ohio became one of the first states to go into lockdown. DeWine warned that if the number of Ohioans in hospitals and ICUs keeps rising, he will again close all bars, restaurants and fitness centers in the state. He said that next week the state will review whether to shut them down.
"I am very well aware of the burden this will place on employees," DeWine said. "I'm well aware of the burden this will place on the owners, but these are places where it's difficult and impossible to maintain mask-wearing."
Wednesday's speech marked the governor's second statewide address in eight months. At the beginning of the pandemic, DeWine's aggressive moves won him praise but have made him a target of fellow Republicans who strafe under many of his mandates. More recently, he has tilted toward messages of personal responsibility, following the direction of governors in Republican-leaning states who resisted wide crackdowns.
His first address took place in mid-July as Ohio experienced its first peak after reopening its economy in May.
Months later, the state is still under that statewide mask order, although until Wednesday, DeWine and state officials had made no effort to enforce it. But what Ohio is seeing now is a peak unlike what happened in the spring and summer.
The number of daily virus cases exceeded 6,000 on Tuesday, a stark jump from 1,400 this time last month. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, with more than 2,700 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 related symptoms. Of those hospitalized, 327 are on ventilators.
Doctors across the state warned Monday of a dark winter to come if hospitalizations continue at this rate.
"The capacity issues we face now are different from what we experienced in the spring," said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, who was appointed chief medical officer at the Ohio Department of Health by DeWine on Thursday. "What we are seeing now is an increasing demand on our staff."
Ohio has seen 5,547 COVID-19 related deaths to date, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University, making the death count the 13th highest in the country overall.
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has more than doubled.
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