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Ohio Gov. DeWine, in risky move, reimposes tougher mask mandate

In other coronavirus news: Corey Lewandowski tests positive for Covid-19, and California is closing in on a million cases.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, with his wife, Fran, wait to vote at the Cedarland Event Center on Election Day.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, with his wife, Fran, wait to vote at the Cedarland Event Center on Election Day.Marshall Gorby / Dayton Daily News via AP

Faced with skyrocketing numbers of new Covid-19 cases in his state, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has risked antagonizing his own Republican Party by reimposing a statewide mask mandate and bolstering it with some additional tougher guidelines.

DeWine made the move on Wednesday as the number of new cases in Ohio jumped by 96 percent over the past two weeks and after nine straight days of logging 4,000 or more new Covid-19 infections a day in the state, the latest NBC News data showed.

And on Thursday, the state logged a record 7,101 new cases, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

“Our rural counties are leading in number of cases. In the spring and in the summer, they weren’t hit, so they weren’t used to that,” DeWine said Thursday on “CBS This Morning.” “But it’s just, it’s moving much faster than it moved in the spring or in the summer.”

Like the order that DeWine issued in July, the new mandate requires that Ohioans wear face coverings outside when it’s not possible to keep 6 feet away from other people.

But it also includes three new provisions. It requires businesses to post signs that says masks are requires at public entrances. It puts the onus on stores to make sure that employees and customers are wearing masks. And it also creates a Retail Compliance Unit that will do inspections to ensure compliance.

Businesses that fail to comply will get a written warning for the first offense. If it happens again, a store or business will be closed for up to 24 hours.

DeWine acknowledged that his revamped mask mandate will be a hard sell in his state, where supporters of President Donald Trump have protested against having to wear masks and restrictions on the economy aimed at combating Covid-19.

“I think people are really tired. I mean they’re just really fatigued with this whole situation,” DeWine said in the CBS interview.

But if the state's latest moves don’t slow the spread, DeWine said he might have to take more draconian steps.

“If we don't turn this thing around quickly, we're going to have no choice but to close bars, fitness centers as well,” DeWine said in a CNN interview. “But, you know, my message to Ohioans is, it's not so much what I order or what the health department orders. It's really what you do in your individual life. You can control this, and it really is true.”

In other coronavirus news:

  • California has joined Texas as the two states with over a million Covid-19 cases, NBC News has confirmed. It had 1,002,814 cases as of Thursday evening, according to The Mercury News' coronavirus tracker. Texas, which has reported 1,050,248 cases, crossed that threshold last week.
  • Corey Lewandowski became the latest Trump insider to test positive for Covid-19, NBC News reported. As part of Trump's legal challenge team, Lewandowski was at a news conference in Philadelphia on Saturday when President-elect Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election.
  • The much-anticipated Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine that could be rolled out soon to combat the pandemic could have some unpleasant side effects like sore arms, muscle aches and fever. Plus, it requires two doses to work.
  • In Georgia, where Biden clings to a lead and a recount is about to start, the state's top election official Brad Raffensburger is heading into quarantine after his wife Tricia tested positive for Covid-19, NBC News has confirmed.
  • With Chicago averaging 1,900 new cases a day and some neighborhoods seeing positivity rates of 25 percent, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a new stay-at-home advisory that goes into effect on Monday and urged residents to cancel Thanksgiving celebrations.
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who has taken heat for imposing new restrictions on indoor dining and indoor youth sports, told his critics to get a grip. "You know what's really uncomfortable? When you die," he said.
  • Jobless claims fell slightly last week to 709,000, but that is still far from the pre-pandemic average of 200,000 weekly claims for initial jobless benefits.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was hospitalized after he contracted the coronavirus.
  • A passenger aboard the SeaDream 1, the first cruise ship to set sail in the Caribbean since the start of the pandemic, has tested positive for Covid-19 and the captain has asked all passengers to return to their rooms.

Once a bellwether state, Ohio has turned increasingly Republican and it supported Trump in this year’s presidential election. And with Republicans in control of the state Legislature, DeWine’s new mask mandate is politically risky.

“Remember, this is someone who's planning to run for re-election as governor just two years from now, in 2022, and he has to worry about getting renominated in the first place,” said Christopher Devine, an expert on Ohio politics and an assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton. “Antagonizing President Trump and the state GOP base won't help him do that.”

But DeWine really has no choice “because the numbers are so alarming right now,” Devine said.

"While Governor DeWine clearly has wanted to ramp up the state’s response, Ohio's numbers were relatively good for some time and I think DeWine calculated that he could get away with not doing more while also helping himself to survive, politically,” Devine said. “Now, circumstances are becoming so dire that it seems he has little choice but to act more aggressively. I think the virus has just forced his hand, come what may, politically.

Ohio’s numbers were initially good, public health experts said, because DeWine and his then health department director, Dr. Amy Acton, took aggressive measures early on to curb the coronavirus spread.

DeWine declared a state of emergency in March to postpone the presidential primary and was among the first governors to require people visiting nursing homes or prisons to undergo health screenings.

DeWine also resisted calls from Trump to quickly reopen the state economy and lift the stay-at-home orders. But those moves drew the ire of the Republicans, and Acton, in particular, was demonized by Trump supporters.

While DeWine defended Acton, she eventually left after the Republican-led Legislature moved to curb her powers.

Not long after that, Ohio’s numbers started climbing again.

"People are letting their guard down," DeWine said in July. "The progress the state has made is in danger of being reversed."

At that point, Ohio had reported 52,865 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 2,876 fatalities. As of Thursday, the state has logged 267,356 cases and 5,623 deaths, according to the NBC News data.

Ohio is one of 10 states that shattered its daily record for new Covid-19 cases overnight, the data shows. The others were Arkansas (1,962), Colorado (3,975), Idaho (1,693), Illinois (12,657), Indiana (4,986), Kentucky (2,697), Michigan (6,940), New Mexico (1,487) and West Virginia (885).