State leaders targeted Butler County as a red-alert area Tuesday, requiring all residents to wear protective masks in public to slow the recent local spike in coronavirus cases.
Starting at 6 p.m. today, Butler County will be one of seven Ohio counties – including Hamilton and Montgomery counties in southwest Ohio - designated for the mandatory mask order for those out in public and unable to maintain social distancing from others.
The state directive from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was soon after met with strong opposition from the top law enforcement officer in Butler County. Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said “we are not the mask police,” and added he will not order his deputies to enforce DeWine’s orders.
“Unless you’re sick then that’s a different story (but) I am not enforcing any mask-wearing,” Jones said shortly after DeWine finished his media briefing.
As with previous state health orders, not following a mask order will be a misdemeanor violation, DeWine said.
“We’re not looking to see people arrested,” he said. “The idea is that it is the norm. This is what is needed for Ohioans to stay safe.”
County health officials, however, welcomed the new state mandate, saying it is especially needed now in Butler County, which has seen a 32 percent jump in coronavirus cases in the last two weeks.
“We are very, very concerned about the increase in the number of cases among our county residents, as well as the trends we are seeing in our hospitals that reveal increases in admissions,” said Jennifer Bailer, Health Commissioner for Butler Couinty.
“We have seen spread among family groups, in long term care settings, and in factories. In addition, we are seeing generalized, large scale community-wide spread.”
Masks are required when inside any location that is not a residence and when people are outside and unable to maintain a minimum distance of six feet apart from others who are not in their household.
Face masks must also be worn while waiting for and using public transportation, as well as taxis, ride-sharing vehicles or a private care service.
The state order came on the same day the city of Hamilton said a worker at Urgent Care in the city tested positive for coronavirus. Officials said they were contacting those who visited the Urgent Care and were seeking help in finding anyone who should be warned.
Middletown Schools officials announced shortly after DeWine’s directive they were cancelling a planned series of outdoor high school graduation ceremonies at Barnitz Stadium on Thursday.
Bailer said “when we look at the timing of this increase, it seems to be tied to holidays and the gatherings that traditionally go along with them. Large gatherings are not permitted but they seem to be happening everywhere—and without masks.”
More young people are testing positive for the coronavirus, she also said.
“Butler County, like other places is seeing a decrease in the ages of persons contracting COVID-19. Those under age 30 with COVID-19 are increasing,” said Bailer.
As of Tuesday, her department reported there were 1,623 confirmed cases in Butler County with 34 probable cases for a total of 1,657.
Ohio officials now report there have been 58,904 total cases of coronavirus and 2,970 deaths attributed to the virus so far in the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Nearly 950 new cases statewide were reported Tuesday.
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