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DeWine: Ohio ramping up mask rules

Warning shots were fired Wednesday evening from the pulpit of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

DeWine’s coronavirus briefing opened with hope for developments of a vaccine, but within a minute, his warning hinged on the third wave of infection plaguing Ohioans.

“We’re now seeing a third spike, but this time things are much different,” said DeWine. “This surge is much more intense, widespread and dangerous.”

He compared 86 Ohioan deaths in the first week of October due to the coronavirus with the 104 deaths of Ohioans in the first week in November.

Then the governor tightened the state health order requiring facial coverings within businesses.

Each business is now required to post signage at entrances.

They’re required to enforce facial covering and are “responsible to ensure customers and employees are wearing masks,” said the governor.

Along with the order announcement, DeWine said a new Retail Compliance Unit within the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has been created to inspect compliance.

A first violation will net a business a written warning.

The second violation closes a business for up to 24 hours.

“It is clear that there are some businesses where mask-wearing is simply lacking,” said DeWine. “We know that masks work. They are the easiest, most cost-effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The governor also warned that if the growing trend of the third wave of coronavirus cases in the state continues within the next week, bars, restaurants and fitness centers may also see closure orders on Nov. 19.

But the local backlash was also nearly immediate.

Business owners throughout the day looked to the evening with trepidation, wondering if another March-like shutdown and limits to only essential businesses were imminent.

Several public-facing business owners worried about enforcement before the announcement, then, following the broadcast, opinions flooded social media accounts.

“Unfortunately, he (has) enough time to completely destroy our economy,” wrote Jesse Roush, Southeast Ohio Port Authority Director, after asking his followers: “How long until we vote DeWine out?”

DeWine assumed office on Jan. 14, 2019 and his current term does not conclude until Jan. 9, 2023.

Others, employed by local bars and restaurants echoed pleas for people to wear masks and prevent the closure of restaurants, bars and fitness centers.

“Just do it,” wrote one Mid-Ohio Valley bar employee. “For the love of God.”

But Dr. Kevin Alten, a gynecologist in Cambridge who is also employed as a professor in Marietta College’s Physician Assistant program directly replied to Times’ announcement via Twitter, with a call for masks to come off.

“We need to spend far less time masking up,” Alten shared in direct response, publicly available.

A gynecologist specializes in women’s reproductive health.

When questioned if he was advocating for a mask-less populace, indicated by the image’s hashtag: “MasksOff” which is also directly opposite of the Marietta College direction for students and staff to remain masked for continued in-person instruction on campus, Alten denied the active call.

“Nothing to lose. Just wearing a mask does nothing,” Alten wrote. “I don’t think any real data that masks do anything.”

Efficacy of a mask or facial covering does not negate the state health order and resultant consequences if local businesses refuse to enforce the increased restrictions, including the closure of retail and food industry small businesses as a direct result of noncompliance.

Meanwhile, Washington County Job and Family Services Director Flite Freimann confirmed Wednesday that the office of children services, located at 204 Davis Ave. in Marietta, will be closed to the public for the remainder of the week, due to a confirmed case within the staff.

Freimann said the protective agency, as of Wednesday, has 74 children in custody.

He added that the employee who has tested positive had been under quarantine for a week by the time results returned Wednesday, and is not a public-facing employee.

Freimann said while the remaining staff will be working remotely through the conclusion of this week while awaiting test results, no court hearings will be impacted by the public closure.

“There are three visitations currently scheduled, but we’re in the process right now of rescheduling those visitations,” said Freimann. “So that those folks will still get to see the child.”

Freimann said emergency removal of children will still continue this week and weekend if needed, with staff wearing full personal protective equipment.

“The emergency line stays open and we have staff ready and available to go out and do an investigation,” said Freimann. “In the event that somebody were to call the hotline tonight or tomorrow and say ‘hey I have an allegation of abuse or I’d like to make a report,’ we’ll still do all of that investigation.”

The director said collaborative work may suffer in helping families with open files in the agency if the office is required to remain remote for more than a week.

Present estimates only predict, he said, remote work through the weekend.

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