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As a new strain of coronavirus (covid-19) sweeps through the world, stay up-to-date on the latest preparedness plans, school closings, changed polling locations, and more in the Tri-State.

Hamilton Co. Leaders React To Mask Mandate: 'We Know We Won't Have Compliance'

Jason Whitman
A couple wearing protective masks walk through Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine District on Saturday, May 16, 2020. The city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County now have mask mandates that go into effect this week.

Starting Wednesday at 6 p.m., people in Hamilton County must wear masks in public spaces to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the measure Tuesday for seven counties in the state. 

Meanwhile, Cincinnati will have a similar mandatory mask policy for indoor areas starting Thursday.

Interim Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman said his office with be working with local jurisdictions, excluding Cincinnati, Norwood and Springdale, on how the state's mask policy will be enforced.

"We know we will not have 100% compliance," Kesterman said. "Just like a seatbelt law doesn't have 100% compliance. The goal with this masking mandate is to get people to care about one another, to help our community stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the lives of those in Hamilton County."

Kesterman said officials will be focusing on education over enforcement. As of Wednesday morning, the county had not received the mask mandate order from the state.  So, he couldn't say if officials will be able to issue citations for those in violation and who refuse to comply with the order.

"It's about working to help educate and to make mask wearing the new normal," Kesterman said. "Those individuals that are not wearing masks, we need to look at that as not OK."

The COVID-19 numbers in Hamilton County continue to trend upward.

As of Wednesday morning, there were about 175 hospitalizations related to the virus. At the peak in late April, that number was 150.  In mid-June, 15 people were in intensive care unit beds, and now that number is about 55. In April that peak number was 75.

"We are absolutely trending in the wrong direction, which makes it even more important that we start to change things up," Kesterman said.

Kesterman did have one piece of good news from the data. The reproductive number for COVID-19 on Wednesday was 1.07.  At a number higher than one, the virus is still spreading in the community, and less than one the virus is predicted to be dying off. Last week, the number was 1.12 and two weeks ago it was 1.45.

Commission President Denise Driehaus applauded the governor on the mask order.

"Masking up keeps our loved ones safe and our businesses open," Driehaus said. "We have been working with the governor in recent days on an approach that is streamlined and consistent throughout Hamilton County."

She said the mask policy is based on the increasing COVID-19 numbers and the advice of health professionals.