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DeWine Concerned About Low Mask Compliance In Ohio's Rural Areas

The number of coronavirus cases continues to surge in Ohio, with 1,800 new cases reported in the last 24 hours. 

Ohio’s cases have doubled over the past two weeks, Gov. Mike DeWine said during a visit to Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland Monday, and he is surprised by how quickly the cases are spreading in the state.

Five counties in Northeast Ohio – Cuyahoga, Summit, Portage, Stark and Mahoning – are designated as red or Level 3 public health emergencies under the state’s public health advisory system, meaning they are experiencing very high exposure and spread. Many surrounding counties, such as Lorain, Medina and Lake, are at Level 2, or orange, which indicates increased exposure and spread.

DeWine said the Northeast Ohio region is approaching 100 cases per 100 thousand, classified as “high incidence level” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the state’s rural counties did not seem to be hit as hard in the early stages of the pandemic, they are now seeing high incidences of spread as well, DeWine said.

For example, Holmes and Tuscarawas counties are reporting 186 and 170 cases per 100,000, respectively, he said. Any number over 100 per 100,000 indicates “high incidence” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DeWine is concerned about the low mask compliance, particularly in rural areas, he said.

“If we could get 85 percent of the people who were out in public to wear a mask in the state, and if we could get people to just – not stop what they’re doing, but maybe to do it differently,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to have to do when we go through this.”

DeWine added he is not sure when the COVID-19 vaccine will be coming to the state. Wearing masks is the best shot Ohioans have at curbing the spread in the meantime, he said.

“When mask compliance went up in our urban areas, for example, from I'm guessing 50 percent to maybe 85, 90 percent, we saw the cases go straight down,” DeWine said.

At Tuesday’s regularly scheduled coronavirus briefing, the state will release a new online dashboard about the coming vaccine, DeWine added. Doctors and hospitals will be able to sign up now to administer the vaccine, so the state will have a database when it’s ready, he said.

The vaccine will be given to the most vulnerable populations first, such as nursing home residents, front line workers and first responders, DeWine said.

Also forthcoming Tuesday is an announcement about how federal CARES Act funds will be spent in the state, he said.

When asked if the state will close bars and restaurants again to try to curb the current virus surge, DeWine said shutting Ohio’s economy down would be a last resort. Officials were considering lifting the ban on alcohol sales after 10 p.m. until cases “shot up like a rocket” recently, he said.

“Wearing a mask, keeping distance, this is how we keep kids in school. This is how we keep kids playing sports. This is how we keep our colleges open. This is how we keep our businesses open,” DeWine said. “Keeping jobs, expanding jobs, keeping kids in school; this is what our priorities are and if enough of us wear a mask, we can get this done.”

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.

Anna joined ideastream in 2019, where she reports on health news for WCPN and WVIZ in Cleveland. She has also served as an associate producer for NewsDepth. Before that, Anna was a 2019 Carnegie-Knight News21 fellow at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.