COLUMBUS (AP) — He didn’t issue a mandate for all Ohioans to wear masks outside the home, but Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made an impassioned plea for residents to do just that during an address from his office late Wednesday afternoon.
In the address and via Twitter, DeWine said, “Some have wondered what health orders might be issued tonight. That discussion is for another time. As your governor, I’ll take any action necessary to protect Ohio citizens. But orders are not as important as what we all do in the days ahead. The future is in our own hands.”
He continued, “Ohio has reached the most critical point in the battle against COVID-19. If we don’t take immediate action to slow this virus down, the tragedies we’re seeing in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California may be Ohio’s reality in just a matter of weeks. This nightmare does not have to be our future.
“Today, COVID-19 is spreading with a vengeance across parts of Ohio. It lurks, waiting to attack victims in all 88 counties. Tragically, in four months, we’ve already lost 3,075 Ohioans to this dreaded disease — nearly the same number of Ohioans who died in the Vietnam War.
“If Ohio does not change course, Florida and Arizona will be our future.”
DeWine said, “I am asking you, wherever you live, to wear a mask when in public. Some may question the wisdom of masks, but as we said when I was a prosecutor: ‘The jury is back. The verdict is in.’ There is broad consensus in medical, health, & business communities that masks are critical.
“But masks are not enough. Let’s be honest, some have started to let our guard down. I know I sometimes have. We’re tired. We want to go back to the way things were – and that’s very understandable. But when our guard is down, we’re playing Russian Roulette with our lives.
“Good decisions will protect the economy and save lives. Reckless ones will hurt and kill,” DeWine said. “Our state’s life is now in danger — and our own strength lies in our unity of purpose.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Ohio reports 65,287 confirmed COVID-19 cases to date with 4,024 probable ones for a total of 69,311, with 9,209 hospitalizations currently. Cases are comprised of about 50 percent each of males and females.
There have been 2,819 confirmed deaths and 256 probable ones due to the virus for a total of 3,075.
Early during the coronavirus outbreak, Ohio’s Republican governor appeared prophetic with his decisive steps to ban spectators from a sports expo, shut down all schools before any other state and put a stop to the presidential primary.
Since then, Gov. Mike DeWine has backed away from a statewide mask mandate, faced a mutiny within his party over business closures and juggled listening to both health experts and those who doubt them. For DeWine, navigating a path out of the state’s pandemic shutdown has been a bumpy one.
His aggressive moves that won early praise have tilted toward messages of personal responsibility, following the direction of governors in Republican-leaning states who resisted wide crackdowns.
But now that the virus is surging again in Ohio, DeWine is taking what he calls a “surgical, precise approach” by requiring masks in just the hardest-hit counties even as some states are issuing wider and stricter measures.
The question is: Can this balancing act work?
It’s a strategy that has encountered criticism from all sides: those who think that his edicts have gone too far and those who believe he’s backed down from protecting the public.
“The same people who are telling me this mask mandate is crazy, are the same people who are saying to me, well, you can’t shut business down,” DeWine, 73, said in an interview with The Associated Press last week. “I agree we have to keep business open, but their failure to wear a mask does not help businesses move forward.”
But DeWine has wavered on mask-wearing. In April, he announced a statewide requirement inside all businesses and then changed his mind the next day, dropping the order for customers, saying people found the idea “offensive.”
Several of the state’s cities issued their own mask rules, in response to rising case numbers, before the governor said a week ago that masks would be required for a handful of counties that he called “red hot.”
Ohio isn’t a hot spot for the virus like Florida, Texas or Arizona. Still, it has seen a steady and troubling rise in cases. Last week, the state saw its highest number since reopening with more than 1,500 confirmed cases in a single day.
Even those who disagree with DeWine’s specific policies believe he’s doing what he thinks is best for the state, said Jai Chabria, a Republican strategist who was a senior adviser to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
DeWine said he’s worried about controlling the virus, not his critics.
“I know that’s the biggest threat to us moving forward,” said DeWine. “It’s the biggest threat to jobs. It’s the biggest threat to families’ safety, security. So I’m going to stay focused on that. That is my mission.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.