COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Hours before a statewide mask mandate was to go into effect Thursday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 1,444 reported daily cases — a number higher than the state’s 21-day average.
Gov. Mike DeWine designated 23 counties in Ohio as red on the state’s color-coded alert system Thursday. Those counties continue to show high positivity rates and had an increase in the number of residents seeking treatment for virus-related symptoms, DeWine said.
Athens County, originally on the state’s watchlist, was moved down and Allen County took its place. DeWine says the latter has seen 23% of the county’s total number of cases just in the past two weeks.
The governor continued to reiterate that new cases are being traced back to community spreading and not congregate settings like churches. Even with that, DeWine said officials have reported outbreaks in bars across the state’s major cities: Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.
The statewide mask order that goes into effect 6 p.m. Thursday is necessary to slow the growth of the virus, officials said, and follows experts’ guidance that widespread mask-wearing over a month or six weeks could put a severe crimp in the virus.
Mandatory mask orders are already in place in 19 at-risk Ohio counties, and the number of counties with dangerously high case figures was expected to rise on Thursday when the state’s new color-coding system was expected to be updated.
Cases have surged through July as the state reopened many businesses and in some parts of Ohio crowds ignored social distancing guidelines.
Ohio has reported more than 80,000 confirmed and probable cases and more than 3,200 deaths. Many of the latter are among nursing home residents.
The economic impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, as the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported Thursday that 1.5 million claims for unemployment compensation have been filed in the past 18 weeks, including about 30,000 last week. The total is more than the previous three years of claims.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.