During Governor DeWine's Wednesday afternoon press conference, he clarified details regarding masks and face coverings, explained his thoughts behind high school graduation plans and provided more information on the state of PPE access in the state.
Clarifications on graduation ceremonies
As the school year draws to a close, one question consistently asked by WCPO-9 viewers has been whether or not socially distanced graduation ceremonies could be made possible. Governor DeWine touched on the topic during Tuesday's press conference, in reaction to a question, but provided more clarification on the topic Wednesday.
"Due to the infectiousness of COVID-19, this year, of course, everything has to be different," said DeWine about graduation plans.
The Ohio Department of Health will issue a more specific list of guidelines and guidance for schools and local health departments, DeWine said. However, he said, there will be heavy restrictions set to avoid mass gatherings associated with graduations -- he condemned the idea of graduation parties altogether, unless they are virtual or comprised of fewer than 10 people.
"When we look at whether or not to hold a graduation ceremony, social distancing...must be first and foremost," said DeWine. "Mass gatherings simply cannot be held."
While the full text from the ODH is not yet posted regarding graduations, DeWine listed several criteria:
- Virtual graduation is the most preferred format.
- Next preference would be a drive-in type of ceremony, where students drive to a designated location at a designated time to receive their diploma.
- Finally, an event with 10 people or fewer at a time, who remain socially distanced, where a graduate can get his or her diploma.
DeWine said each school district would need to work with their local health departments to ensure their plans for a graduation ceremony are in compliance with best practices.
He said a major point of concern are graduation parties. Though they are an integral part of celebrating graduations, DeWine emphatically said that gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed, including any graduation parties.
"Remember that our order prohibits gatherings of 10 or more," said DeWine. "Now is not the time to have graduation parties. That will have to wait."
Are facial coverings mandatory or not?
Some confusion arose after DeWine first mandated that all employees and customers alike wear facial coverings while inside of any open businesses, then walked that mandate back during Tuesday's conference.
During Wednesday's conference, Lt. Gov. Husted clarified this, and expressed both reasoning for walking the mandate back and explained how the mandate will actually work.
"For Ohioans, when you are a customer in an Ohio business, you should wear a face covering," said Husted. "But you are not required to wear a face covering."
Facial coverings are not to protect the wearers, but to protect the public from an asymptomatic wearer, Husted said, and wearing a mask in public or inside another person's business or place of work is a courtesy to those working there. Out of mutual respect for one another, he said, everyone should wear a mask to protect each other.
Employers and employees are required to wear facial coverings while on the job, Husted said.
There are a few exceptions for which this requirement is waived:
- When workers are prohibited by law or regulation from wearing a facial covering on the job
- When wearing a face covering is against documented industry best practices
- When wearing a face covering is not advisable for health purposes
- When a face covering is in violation of a company's safety policies
- When an employee is sitting alone in an enclosed work space
- When there is a practical reason it cannot be worn while working (Example given: when working under extreme heat)
If a business or employee believes they qualify for one of these exceptions, they have to be ready to provide written justification for this upon request.
State distributing PPE to local communities, local law enforcement grant access
The state of Ohio was able to ship 4.1 million units of PPE to local EMAs across the state last week, DeWine said. While this is not the first shipment of PPE from the state to local communities, it is certainly the largest, he added.
"We will continue to distribute PPE to the local EMAs when we get it in," said DeWine. "We're working on this every single day."
He continued to stress the importance of access to PPE as the state begins to move toward a steady reopening process, while alluding to more news regarding PPE in the state later this week.
In a similar vein, DeWine also announced the creation of a new grant, created with funding provided by the federal CARES Act, intended to help local law enforcement departments fight the spread of COVID-19 and update their systems to allow for virtual, distanced systems.
The grant money will be available for use for:
- Overtime costs
- Cleaning supplies and PPE
- Technology needed for virtual court
- Monitoring and testing supplies in local jails
The funding can also be used for victim services, like domestic violence shelters. It can be used to provide alternative housing for survivors of violence who may need to quarantine or get out of their homes during the pandemic, DeWine said.
Agencies can apply for up to 12 months of funding, and the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services has not set a deadline for funding requests or a cap. DeWine suggested agencies apply as soon as possible, however, before the funding runs out.