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Ben Asks a Question: Can Ohio require people to wear masks during religious services?

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Posted at 6:26 PM, Jul 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 19:47:50-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration released a new health order, which includes facial-covering requirements for Ohioans attending a religious service in counties with at least a “level 3” status according to the state’s COVID-19 infection map -- DeWine said the state has been a “leader” in protecting religious freedom.

During DeWine’s Thursday COVID-19 press briefing, I was unable to ask a question due to time restrictions. However Randy Ludlow of the Columbus Dispatch began the day’s questions with an important one aimed at the administration’s recent order regarding face coverings in religious spaces.

Ben Asks a Question is a feature we started as a way to help give you a voice during Gov. Mike DeWine's daily press briefings. Since then, Ben has gotten hundreds of questions a day. If you'd like to ask a question, find us on Facebook and feel free to message us there, or send us an email at newsdesk@wcpo.com.

Ludlow asked DeWine why he believes he has the power to mandate masks in such areas, to which the governor replied by first touting his administration’s handling of religious gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ohio has been a leader in this,” said DeWine. “In the sense that we have never, ever closed down any religious activity. None. We do not intend to going forward … and it’s because we thought that was the right thing to do, that this is a great tradition in our country. And we are not in any way prohibiting anyone from going to church now.”

DeWine then continued to say that he’s spoken with religious leaders in Ohio, telling them all to “be careful.”

“What we are simply saying is that we do have examples, and it should not be a surprise, whenever we just bring people together, we see that. And we see it in large gatherings. And so when I’ve talked to pastors, I’ve said ‘just be careful.’ I get texts all the time like ‘what can we do?’ And I say ‘look, you can do anything. But you need to be careful.’”

The governor asserted that his administration considers the order to be minimal, and that it was constructed by following the best available medical guidance.

“We put on, in this order, what we consider to be the minimal -- and that is, that following best medical guidance to stop the spread of COVID-19 in those counties that are red or purple -- that people who are attending a service, when they can … should wear a mask.”

Dewine is next set to address the public on Tuesday, July 14.