Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday announced new restrictions on some activities and pleaded with Ohioans to practice basic COVID-19 safety measures as fall deepens into winter, with a vaccine possible but far from guaranteed.
Speaking directly to Ohioans for the first time since summer, DeWine described the mounting crisis in his state: Thousands of new COVID-19 diagnoses every day, more than 700 patients simultaneously in intensive care, and legions of burnt-out health care workers attempting to prepare for an even more demanding winter.
It’s worse than the previous two spikes that arrived in spring and summer, he added. It’s everywhere. It’s spreading from small family gatherings to schools to nursing homes in every one of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Watch DeWine's complete address:
“The good news is that we don’t have to search for the tools to fight back,” he said. “They are ready at hand. We have used them effectively before, and we must use them effectively again.”
The most basic of these tools are mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing, all of which are proven to stop the spread of the virus.
Some, however, have fallen out of vogue among restless Ohioans tired of restrictions; some are practiced stringently in public but abandoned in gatherings of close friends and family, which have become some of the most dangerous events for virus transmission in the state.
And DeWine, who has for months resisted the imposition of new statewide health orders, said he’ll be using his own tools.
He announced Wednesday he plans to reissue the statewide masking order with three new provisions:
- One requiring all Ohio businesses to post mask-requirement signs at all entrances;
- Another making stores legally responsible for ensuring customers and workers wear masks;
- And a third creating a “retail compliance unit” with the power to shut businesses down for up to 24 hours at a time if they repeatedly violate mask requirements.
He will also place new restrictions on the types of informal gatherings that have led to vaulting spread across the state. Banquets, wedding receptions and post-funeral gatherings must be limited to 10 people or fewer.
All attendees must be seated and masked; activities such as dancing and games will not be allowed.
Bars, restaurants and gyms may also soon face a second state-mandated closure if cases continue to rise, DeWine said. His administration will make a decision on Nov. 19.
“I am very well aware of the burden this will place on employees and the owners, but these are places where it is difficult or impossible to maintain mask-wearing, which we know now is the chief way of slowing this virus,” he said.
Finally, DeWine said, there’s the question of schooling. He did not issue any new orders or guidance but spotlighted education as particularly vulnerable to uncontrolled spread of the virus, even if schools themselves are safe and young students are less vulnerable than other groups.
“As the increasing surge threatens school districts’ ability to keep teachers in the classroom, some schools are starting to shift to virtual learning,” he said. “We must do everything in our power to slow this virus down so our kids can stay in school.”
As he has done frequently since the beginning of the pandemic, DeWine expressed conviction that Ohioans have the strength, the ability and the willingness to make hard choices in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.
He encouraged people watching the address to keep in mind that their individual actions affect everyone around them, not just the people in their household.
Ohioans should call off birthday parties, sleepovers and in-person celebrations and seriously reconsider their Thanksgiving plans, he continued. And they should take the precautions around others that they wish others would take around them.
“Throughout history, each generation has faced challenges,” DeWine said. “Americans have been asked to lay down their lives so that our nation might live. Today, we all must do something far less dramatic — wear a mask so that your friends, neighbors, and family members might live.”
Hours before he spoke, the Ohio Department of Health announced its second-highest daily COVID-19 case total ever: 5,874 new diagnoses.
The department also reported 76 new deaths, the highest number recorded since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
All 88 of Ohio’s counties are places of uncontrolled spread, rural and urban alike. The picture is similar across the entire United States.
Near the end of his speech, DeWine quoted an aphorism often attributed to Winston Churchill, who led the United Kingdom during World War II: “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.”