Almost all Ohioans will be required to wear masks in public spaces beginning Thursday night, Gov. Mike DeWine announced in a Wednesday afternoon news briefing.
His new masking order will apply to all counties starting at 6 p.m. Thursday. Previous mandatory masking orders had covered only the counties that appeared red on the Ohio Department of Health's statewide COVID-19 heat map, indicating "very high exposure and spread" within.
They've seemed to work there, DeWine said Wednesday. Diagnosis rates in mask-on counties have slowed. However, diagnosis and hospitalization totals across the state have continued to rise. ODH reported 1,527 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, making it the second-highest day of new diagnoses since the pandemic began. The highest had been only five days before: On July 17, ODH reported 1,679.
No single day since July 7 has seen fewer than 1,000 newly recorded diagnoses. DeWine said he expects to announce more counties turning red on Thursday, when ODH updates its heat map. The four tiers depicted on the map start at yellow — the least risk — and darken to purple — a stage at which Ohioans should only leave their homes for essential supplies and services, according to health officials.
The 19 counties already represented in red, and already under mandatory masking orders, are home to about 60% of the state's population. DeWine said they've shown encouraging progress since their masking orders were implemented.
"Don’t want to get overenthusiastic about it, but it looks like wearing a mask is starting to have some effect," he said.
A few exceptions apply to the new order: Children under 10 don't need to wear masks, nor do people with recognized medical exemptions or disabilities that would prevent them from putting on or taking off a mask on their own. Restaurant patrons will be allowed to remove their masks while eating or drinking; people performing religious services, including readers at Christian worship, will be allowed to take theirs off as well. Anyone who works with people with disabilities can take their mask off if the person with disabilities has trouble understanding them.
DeWine also announced a new quarantine policy for people traveling to Ohio from the United States' worst-affected regions: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and Texas.
Anyone entering Ohio from those states must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, regardless of whether they are an Ohio resident or a visitor.
“We know all of these things are sacrifices, but we hope that these are short-term sacrifices for something we all want to see, and that is to get this virus under control and be able to do more things as we head into the fall," DeWine said.