PORTSMOUTH — Governor Mike DeWine’s statewide mask mandate went into effect Thursday evening, doing away with his original county-by-county approach.
Twenty-two counties on a Level 3 Public Health Emergency, including Scioto and Lawerence counties, were originally required to wear masks. Now that order applies to all 88 counties.
This new mandate would not take precedence over Portsmouth’s order, said Ohio Press Secretary Dan Tierney, since the local ordinance is stronger.
“Health orders are usually enforced by local officials,” said Tierney via email. “The city could issue citations under its ordinance after the statewide order is in place.”
Portsmouth City Council voted July 13 to require face covering in public, giving warnings and fines to places of businesses and citizens in violation. After a warning, individuals would pay $25 for each following charge. Places of business were charged $500 for its second violation and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.
Interim PCHD Administrator Belinda Leslie said no warnings or fines had been issued.
The governor considered a mask mandate in late April before changing his mind, as state coronavirus cases approach 80,000 with 9,968 hospitalized and 2,997 confirmed deaths as July 23.
“Our preliminary data indicate that the rate of increase in new cases has slowed in the high-risk counties where masks are already mandated, so we are cautiously optimistic that things are heading in the right direction,” said DeWine, requiring masks in all indoor locations that are not residences, outdoors when social distancing is not possible, and when using public transportation. “We believe that requiring masks statewide will make a significant difference and will be key to making sure other counties do not progress to a higher level of increased spread.”
The Ohio mandate would have additional exemptions than Portsmouth’s. Citizens under the age of 10 are not required to wear face coverings in the statewide order, while those over the age of six were expected to wear masks in Portsmouth. Like the city’s ordinance, masks will not be needed when exercising, at religious exercises, and for those with medical conditions.
During DeWine’s Thursday address, four counties- Butler, Lorain, Summit and Wood- were downgraded to Level 2 from Level 3. Leslie hoped Scioto County would join that list as a sign of progress in fighting the virus. Remaining at Level 3, PCHD moved to continue blocking permits for city park group usage until Scioto County is at a Level 2 Public Health Emergency during its meeting Wednesday.
PCHD stopped issuing permits July 8 after receiving reports of crowds not social distancing. Leslie said the health department would meet with City Solicitor John R. Haas and Chief of Police Debby Brewer Monday to discuss plans for permits if and when the county moves to a Level 2.
Mass gatherings are limited to 50 people, per the governor’s orders, and does not recommend nonessential, non-family meetings of more than 10 people, which presents challenges for large groups to convene. Still, Leslie stresses that the group will be very aware of the exemptions in their conversations.
“We are very cognizant that this excludes religious gatherings, expressions of the First Amendment, weddings and funerals,” said Leslie. “We will definitely follow the governor’s guidelines when we come up with a way to allow people to gather safely again.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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