Governor requires masks for residents of 7 hard-hit counties
By FARNOUSH AMIRI and JULIE CARR SMYTH Report for America/Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Residents of seven Ohio counties will be mandated to wear a mask when out in public, Gov. Mike DeWine announced during a briefing Tuesday as the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 reached the highest count in at least 21 days.
The governor said the mandate will impact residents of Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Huron, Montgomery and Trumbull counties starting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Three of those counties are home to the state’s three largest cities, Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Ohio saw 948 reported cases Tuesday, pushing the total number of probable and reported cases statewide to 58,904. The state reported 134 hospitalizations.
Residents in impacted counties must wear a mask when out in public or in a place where they are unable to follow social distancing rules.
It will not be required for children under the age of 10 or anyone who has a medical condition that keeps them from wearing a mask.
The mandate is to be enforced by state and local authorities, not by businesses. However, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said businesses will have to comply.
The mask mandate comes after DeWine announced last week that he will not be issuing a statewide mandate like a number of other states have, including Ohio’s neighbor, West Virginia.
DeWine pushed back against criticism that he has waffled on mask-wearing over the months, initially requiring them statewide before rescinding that mandate the next day. He said, “We’re now at a much more dangerous time,” and that he believes the public is now ready. He said imposing the mandate in just those counties that are “red hot” is fair.
GOVERNOR’S VIRUS AID LOAN
Data released Monday showed a minor league baseball team partly owned by DeWine was among a number of businesses that received a loan from a $600 billion-plus coronavirus aid program.
DeWine Seeds-Silver Dollar Baseball received a loan under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program for $189,500.
When asked about the criticism he and other elected officials are facing after receiving a loan meant for small business owners, DeWine said the baseball team is a small business, with only 12 or 14 full-time employees.
“We understand what small businesses are going through,” DeWine said during Tuesday’s briefing. “I am not asking anyone to feel sorry for us but if you run a minor league baseball team in Ohio, there are no seasons right now.”
Spokesman Dan Tierney said the loan was used to cover payroll and payroll-related expenses for the Asheville Tourists team in North Carolina.
DeWine’s son, Brian DeWine, currently serves as president of the baseball team.
STATE LAWMAKER CONTRACTS VIRUS
The leader of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus said she has tested positive for COVID-19.
State Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat, announced her diagnosis in a video posted to Twitter on Monday.
She said her symptoms — cough, loss of taste and smell — “are pretty mild” and she expects “prayerfully” to fully recover.
DeWine said during his Tuesday press briefing that he was thinking of Howse and hoping she recovers soon.
RETAIL, FOOD WORKER TESTING
Hundreds of people who work at the bars, restaurants and tourist shops in the Lake Erie island community of Put-In-Bay will be tested for the virus, health officials said this week.
The decision comes after less than 10 cases were linked to the island and two popular food and drinking spots closed in recent days — one after two employees tested positive and the other after a worker was showing symptoms.
As many as 1,000 workers could be tested, Jerry Bingham, Ottawa County’s health commissioner told the Sandusky Register.
Put-in-Bay Mayor Jessica Dress said the village’s businesses told her they support the widespread testing. The county health department said a week ago that seven people tested positive after visiting the island in mid-June.
The two main ferry lines that bring tourists and residents to the island said this week they now will require all passengers to wear masks on their boats.
Associated Press reporter John Seewer in Toledo contributed to this report. Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.