DeWine mask order won’t apply to lawmakers, judges, staffs

By: - July 9, 2020 12:45 am

Gov. Mike DeWine is seen during a COVID-19 press conference. (Screenshot courtesy OhioChannel)

A spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday said that even though the governor ordered people to wear masks inside Franklin County’s public spaces, that order won’t be enforced against some of the state’s most public people inside the state’s most public building.

DeWine Press Secretary Dan Tierney said the order won’t be enforced against lawmakers and members of their staffs inside the Statehouse.

“The governor has been very respectful of the separation of powers,” Tierney said in an interview.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Dave Yost didn’t comment on the latest health order after speaking out against enforcement of an earlier one by the governor and after saying local orders couldn’t be enforced against state buildings and officials.

With the number of COVID-19 cases spiking in Ohio, DeWine on Tuesday announced mask orders in the seven Ohio counties that are on Level 3 alert for the disease: Franklin, Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Montgomery, Butler, Huron and Trumbull.

Of those, Franklin County is closest to tipping into the state’s highest alert level — 4 — DeWine said. Even so, many legislative Republicans, including House Speaker Larry Householder, have refused to wear masks in the Statehouse and in the towering state office buildings on Capitol Square.

The refusal comes as one state lawmaker, Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, announced she had tested positive for coronavirus. 

Another lawmaker, Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, announced in June that she was shutting down her Columbus office after a legislative staffer had tested positive. She said she wanted a health-and-safety agreement addressing the fact that many GOP lawmakers had eschewed masks.

Coronavirus cases across Ohio have spiked sharply since Fedor made her announcement. 

On Wednesday, state officials announced 1,277 new cases over the previous 24 hours — a 66% increase over the rapidly rising 21-day average. Hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths due to the disease over the past 24 hours are up over their 21-day averages as well.

And while some have claimed that the surge in new cases of the virus is due to expanded testing, state data show that even as the number of tests has doubled, the rate of positive results hasn’t dropped.

As coronavirus cases are spiking in Ohio and elsewhere — and as many of Ohio’s elected Republicans are refusing to wear masks — a data analysis this week by the New York Times shows that Blacks and Hispanics are three times as likely to get Coronavirus as whites. Those proportions hold for Franklin County, the analysis shows.

The order DeWine reluctantly announced on Tuesday took effect at 6 p.m. Wednesday. 

It requires that masks be worn in indoor public spaces and in outdoor settings where people can’t maintain a six-foot distance from people who are not family members. The order applies to people over the age of 10 and exempts people with medical or occupational reasons that would keep them from donning a face covering.

It also exempts some of the state’s top leaders, so long as they’re members of the legislative or judicial branches of government.

“The order is not intended to supersede the U.S. or Ohio constitutions,” Tierney said. 

He added, however, that DeWine strongly urges everybody to mask up to protect themselves and others. “One thing we’re very concerned about is asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals.”

DeWine has declined to criticize his fellow Republicans at the national and state level and he’s said he’s not eager to enforce the mask mandate against anybody. Even so, many on Twitter are calling him a dictator and some others say he’s “killing Ohio.”

At the same time another Ohio Republican, Attorney General Dave Yost, has taken confusing steps into the debate surrounding the virus. 

Last month, he urged the Cambridge Municipal Court to dismiss charges against owners of a local restaurant who were accused of opening in violation of an earlier health order.

And on Tuesday, Yost said that Columbus city government doesn’t have the power to impose mask ordinances on state buildings and workers. In a tweet, he said he was for mask wearing and that he was merely making a point about the law.

“I wore a mask before there was any order — to the office, to shop, to church.  I choose to do so to protect everybody else,” he said.  “We are a free people — free to put others before ourselves, or free to be defiant. But because we have a right to do a thing does not mean it is wise.”

But on Wednesday the state’s top cop didn’t respond to questions about whether health orders from the governor applied to state buildings and the employees who work in them.


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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.