COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The masks are coming back on in Columbus.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced Wednesday that he is issuing an executive order requiring facemasks to be worn in indoor public spaces because of a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
“The strain has reached a breaking point,” Ginther said.
Ginther said there are not enough healthcare workers to handle the influx of new cases and that further steps are needed. He said he would work with City Council to codify the order next week. Ginther said that having separate orders from him and City Council are in anticipation of a legal challenge.
A state law passed in March over a veto from Gov. Mike DeWine limits orders from local health departments to no longer than 30 days. An order can be extended only if the state General Assembly votes in favor of it.
Dr. Mysheika Roberts, the commissioner of Columbus Public Health, said enforcement would follow the pattern of an earlier mask order and be based on complaints. A first offense would draw a warning, a second offense a $500 fine, and a third offense a $1,000 fine.
“Wear a mask whether you’re vaccinated or not,” Roberts said. “We have to do everything we can as a community to band together to keep our businesses open, to keep our kids in school,” she said.
In early August, an indoor mask advisory was put in place for Columbus and Franklin County. It is recommended everyone wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status.
An earlier mask order was in place for about 11 months starting in July 2020, but it was allowed to expire around the same time that a state mask order ended in early June.
Ginther made the announcement at a news conference where he and Roberts were joined by several local health leaders:
- Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, OhioHealth
- Dr. Nicholas Kreatsoulas, Mount Carmel Health System
- Dr. Rustin Morse, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
- Dr. Andrew Thomas, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
At the press conference, healthcare leaders shared new COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers for the area. Last week Franklin County saw 2500 new COVID-19 cases which is a 37 percent increase from the week before, according to Dr. Roberts. Dr. Andrew Thomas the lead of the zone 2 hospitals. That zone includes central Ohio, south-central Ohio, and southeastern Ohio. The zone had about 150 COVID19 hospitalizations at the beginning of August and now has more than 900, according to Dr. Thomas.
“The tone of voice I’m hearing from our regional hospital leaders I connect with on a routine basis is more than just anxious, it’s more than just concerned,” said Dr. Thomas. “No one’s in a panic, our healthcare leaders don’t panic, we partner, we partner to move patients between hospitals when we have to, partner to move supplies and medications between hospitals when we have to and we partner to move ventilators when we have to but partnerships within the healthcare sector are simply not enough.”
The mayor and doctors also strongly encouraged vaccination for those who have not yet gotten the COVID19 vaccine. Dr. Roberts revealed 53 percent of Franklin County residents are fully vaccinated while that number is 46 percent specifically for Columbus. The mayor plans to sign the executive order for the indoor mask mandate on Friday and his office says it will go into effect immediately.
“If you’re vaccinated, wear a mask. That’s all we’re asking. That’s the only sacrifice we’re asking people to make, is to wear a mask. and if you haven’t gotten vaccinated, get vaccinated, and wear your mask. We can do this, we’ve done it before,” Ginther said. ” It’s not enough for us to thank our public health and healthcare workers, to put out hashtags and atta boys. We need to get vaccinated and we need to wear our masks, that’s how we show support for our healthcare professionals and public health workers.”