COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio order requiring masks to be worn in public may include “a lot more counties” next week as the coronavirus continues to spread in the state, Gov. Mike DeWine said Sunday.
DeWine said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he is still considering a statewide mask mandate. On Thursday, the Republican governor ordered Ohio residents in 19 counties, which include almost 60% of the state’s population, to wear a mask in public.
“We’re going the wrong way. We’re at a crucial time,” DeWine said when asked about the possibility of a statewide order. “And so this week, you may see a lot more counties under that mask requirement. So we certainly would not rule out going statewide. We’re certainly looking at that.”
DeWine said health departments in the state indicate that the increase is occurring in bars, churches and from people traveling out of state “but a lot of it, frankly, is just people in casual settings, 20, 30, 40, 50 people gathering together.”
“And so it’s not all about orders,” he said. “Orders are important. But it’s also about getting people to understand, ‘Hey, this is, this is very, very serious. And now, while we did a great job early on in Ohio, we are now headed in the wrong direction.’”
When the pandemic started, DeWine won praise with aggressive steps to ban spectators from a sports expo and shut down all schools before any other state. But since then he has backtracked from a statewide mask mandate, delivered mixed messages on large gatherings, and faced a mutiny within his party over business closures.
With the virus surging again, he defends what he calls a “surgical, precise approach” by requiring masks in just the hardest-hit counties.
The governor said “getting a 20-year-old to understand that he or she may, you know, feel invulnerable,” but they might carry the virus home to their grandmother and “she may end up dying” is the message state officials are trying to get out to people.
The governor also said that though testing in Ohio has doubled over the past five weeks, it needs to increase more, and that will require help from the federal government over a long period of time.
On Sunday, Ohio health officials reported more than 70,700 confirmed new cases and more than nearly 4,200 cases considered probable under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The state says there have been 2,916 deaths associated with the virus and another 258 considered probably virus-related.