DeWine: Mask mandate will be enforced, other restrictions coming; bars, restaurants, fitness centers may be closed

COLUMBUS — Speaking in a somber tone in a statewide broadcast from his Statehouse office, Gov. Mike DeWine Wednesday told Ohioans he will step up enforcement of his mandatory mask order and some new restrictions will be ordered.

It comes in response to record high numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The Ohio Department of Health figures show there were 5,784 new coronavirus cases reported in the last 24 hours period and 253 new people hospitalized in that same period.

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DeWine ordered that businesses must post a Face Covering Requirement sign at all entrances. Most businesses have them already but many have told employees not to challenge customers who are not wearing a mask, out of fear of angering them.

Also each store will be responsible for employees and customers wearing a mask. The governor said a new Retail Compliance Unit from the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation will inspect stores for compliance.

In April the state issued an order limiting public gatherings to ten people and DeWine reminded people that the order remains in effect.

“Despite this order we have seen rampant spread of the virus as a result of banquets, wedding receptions, and social gatherings following funerals. We have seen great tragedy associated with these events,” DeWine said.

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A new order coming in the next few days will address those gatherings, requiring people to be seated and wearing a mask unless they are actively consuming food. Congregate areas cannot be open. Dancing and games will be prohibited

Other categories of businesses are also being targeted by DeWine.

“If the current trend continues and cases keep increasing, we will be forced to close bars, restaurants and fitness centers. We will look at this one week from tomorrow. I’m very well aware of the burden this will place on employees. I’m very well aware of the burden this will place on the owners, but these are places candidly where it is impossible to maintain mask wearing which we know is the chief way of slowing this virus,” DeWine said.

As some school districts have begun to shift the virtual learning, DeWine said people must do everything in their power to slow the virus down so kids can stay in school.

“It is up to each and every one of us. What you do in the community …what we all do in the community impacts whether our kids can stay in schools. Because no matter how good our schools are they cannot overcome widespread COVID in the community that will get into the schools,” DeWine said.

The governor also thanked universities for moving students off-campuses after the Thanksgiving break and through the end of the year. If the virus continues to spread, DeWine said, universities may have to remain virtual when they return in January.

DeWine quoted former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led his battered nation through World War II, when he said “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”

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The governor asked Ohioans to keep going.

“Recommit your individual efforts to stay safe. Because what you do in your private lives effects everyone. Please, please don’t host that birthday party, that baby shower or kids' sleepover or that get-together to watch he football game,” DeWine said.

Like several other governors around the state, DeWine urged people to stay home when they can, to work from home when they can and to remember to avoid letting someone into their homes, including extended family members to come into their home for Thanksgiving.

He urged people if they are attending a gathering, to make sure everyone is wearing a mask.

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