As Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s statewide mask mandate went into effect on Thursday at 6 p.m., Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner called on Highland County residents to wear a mask to help keep the community healthy.
“We don’t have the staffing or the resources to enforce this,” Warner told The Times-Gazette Thursday. “It’s not that we don’t think it’s important — we do. We are fully in support of wearing a mask. There is evidence that masks are effective in reducing the spread of COVID. We don’t have the resources necessary to try to enforce this, so we’re calling on the citizens of Highland County. Don’t ask the question, ‘Is it legal for the government to force me to put fabric on my face?’ — it really becomes a personal question: are you willing to be a little uncomfortable if it means making our county a little more healthy? And hopefully the answer to that is ‘yes.’
“If it’s something that you’re able to do, wear the mask. If you can’t wear a mask and a face shield works out better for you, wear a face shield. We’re going to support anything that you do to try to be helpful and try to help your fellow man.”
In previous interviews and Facebook Live conferences, Warner explained that face coverings, like cloth masks, mostly serve to minimize the risk of the wearer spreading and exposing others to COVID-19, especially since no one has immunity against COVID-19 — as they typically have against seasonal illnesses like the flu — because COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus.
The governor’s mandate follows experts’ guidance that widespread mask-wearing over a month or six weeks could drastically decrease COVID-19.
“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,” DeWine said. “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.”
According to a press release from the governor’s office, all individuals — ages 10 and up — in Ohio must wear facial coverings in public at all times when:
* At an indoor location that is not a residence;
* Outdoors but unable to maintain six-foot social distance from people who are not household members;
* Waiting for, riding, driving, or operating public transportation, such as a taxi, a car service, or a private car used for ride-sharing.
* Those with a medical condition or a disability or those communicating with someone with a disability;
* Those who are actively exercising or playing sports;
* Those who are officiants at religious services;
* Those who are actively involved in public safety; or
* Those who are actively eating or drinking.
* Schools should follow the guidance previously issued pertaining to masks.
Though neither the governor’s office nor the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) had released any further details as of press time, Warner was able to offer some speculation on how the mandate could affect local activities like youth baseball games based on the governor’s Wednesday press conference.
“One of the common questions we get is, ‘I’m going to the ball diamond to watch a baseball game,’” Warner said. “If you and your family unit are able to sit six feet away from the next family unit — no problem, you’ve got your social distancing. When you have all the families sitting right next to each other, that’s where the governor’s order is going to come into play, and we’re going to ask people to wear those face coverings. That’s how we expect the order to read once it’s released.”
Warner stressed that masks are not the entire solution to COVID-19.
“Another of the comments we get a lot is, ‘Now that we’re doing masks, that means everything else is back to normal,’” Warner said. “Masks are just one part of the many different tools in our toolbox to address COVID-19 — they aren’t meant to be the only thing that fixes all problems. Masks are just one part of a complicated solution that we’re trying to implement. Masks won’t make all the disease go away, but they’re going to help us slow it down.”
On Wednesday, the ODH reported 1,527 new cases — the second-highest one-day total since the pandemic began.
As of Thursday, the state had seen a total of 80,186 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 — 9,968 of which resulted in hospitalization and 3,256 of which resulted in death — since the pandemic began, according to the ODH. Throughout the state, 55,702 patients have recovered.
Warner said that Highland County has so far been sheltered from the level of COVID-19 spread that other similarly-sized jurisdictions continue to face.
“If you look at Greene County or Miami County — Miami County’s had something like 500 to 600 cases. They’re at the point now where there are a lot of families who have felt this. It’s become personal; it’s become real,” Warner said. “I don’t think we’ve reached that point with a lot of our population because we’ve been sheltered — part of that is because we have an awesome nursing department and part of that is just our geographic isolation from other people. There’s no need to panic, but it is something to take seriously and work through. I hope we aren’t impacted, but we’ve had over 400 people in quarantine or sick from this — that’s 1 percent of our population that has been impacted directly. As that percentage grows, more people will start to see this in a different light and realize, ‘It’s not that much to ask me to put a face mask on when I’m out in public — that’s a pretty easy thing to ask if it means that my friend doesn’t have to go through what my other friend just got over.’”
In Highland County, as of Thursday, there have been a total of 87 lab-confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, 13 hospitalizations, and one death, according to the ODH. Of these cases, 49 have recovered.
Of the cases in Highland County:
* 19 cases involved 60- to 69-year-olds, three of whom were hospitalized.
* 15 cases involved 40- to 49-year-olds, two of whom were hospitalized.
* 14 cases involved 70- to 79-year-olds, four of whom were hospitalized.
* 12 cases involved 50- to 59-year-olds.
* 11 cases involved 20- to 29-year-olds, one of whom was hospitalized.
* 8 cases involved 0- to 19-year-olds, one of whom was hospitalized.
* 7 cases involved 30- to 39-year-olds, one of whom was hospitalized.
* 1 case involved someone 80 years old or older, who was hospitalized and later died.
DeWine also announced a travel advisory for those returning to Ohio from states like Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and Texas, which are reporting positive COVID-19 testing rates of 15 percent or higher. Those traveling from these states — Ohio residents or otherwise — should self-quarantine for 14 days at home or in a hotel, the press release from DeWine’s office said.
DeWine also urged Ohioans to use extreme caution when considering attending or hosting an informal gathering.
“We are seeing serious exposures to the virus that are arising from everyday events like church services, small house parties, neighborhood get-togethers, children’s sleepovers, weddings, and even bridal showers,” said DeWine. “This virus is real, and we cannot let our guards down.”
For more information visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.