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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.

Coronavirus In Ohio: Face Masks No Longer Mandatory For Customers

A statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger wears a face mask in downtown Columbus.
A statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger wears a face mask in downtown Columbus.

Wearing masks or facial coverings won't be mandatory for customers when retail businesses reopen in May, Gov. Mike DeWine announced, marking a quick reversal from the state's previous guidelines.

DeWine originally announced Monday that face masks would be required for all consumers and employees in businesses that choose to reopen. But the next day, DeWine walked back that decision, saying that he heard from residents who say face mask requirements are "offensive."

"I heard from a lot of different people who felt that, 'I may wear a mask, or I may not wear a mask, but the government should not be telling me what to do,'" DeWine said at his daily press conference Tuesday.

State law instead will allow individuals to decide whether they wish to wear masks at business locations, though DeWine said they're strongly recommending people do so.

"Face coverings would still be mandated for employees unless wearing a face covering is not advisable by a healthcare professional, goes against industry best practices, or is not permitted by federal or state laws and regulations," DeWine said in a press release.

Meanwhile, business owners who want to require coverings will reserve the right to turn away customers who do not wear masks. The state is working on an FAQ to help guide employers in this matter.

DeWine said there will be more adjustments made to the plan to re-open Ohio’s economy over time. The Ohio General Assembly will form a group to work on guidelines for re-opening restaurant dining rooms, and another group to handle the reopening of hair salons and barbershops, which were all left out of the first phase of reopenings.

As the state reopens businesses and the parents of young children return to work, DeWine said he is considering the importance of finding a way to reopen childcare facilities. However, DeWine said the state is not ready to do so on a wide scale at this time.

The state changed the size of some daycare classes so medical professionals could keep working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When businesses reopen, Ohio Public Health director Dr. Amy Acton advises that they flush cold and hot water in unused pipes in an effort to avoid transmission of bacteria from lead build-up. She also said businesses should not recycle air because fresh air can help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

DeWine stressed that people in high risk groups must assess their individual situations before deciding whether to go out or stay home. 

The Ohio Department of Health on Tuesday reported 16,769 cases of COVID-19, and 799 total deaths. So far, 3,340 people have been hospitalized, including 1,004 admitted into the ICU.

Coronavirus cases have now been confirmed in all of Ohio's 88 counties. The state has conducted 122,706 tests so far.

Election Day

Tuesday also marks the end of Ohio's pandemic-delayed election. The state primaries were almost entirely conducted by mail after DeWine shut down polls March 17 in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Appearing at the press conference by video, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said the U.S. Postal Service delivered 10,000 ballots from Hamilton County and 17,000 from Cuyahoga County on Tuesday. Delays with deliveries have slowed the process of requesting and returning absentee ballots.

LaRose said almost 2 million people requested absentee ballots by Saturday's deadline, and about 1.5 million have returned them so far – a drop from the 3 million Ohioans who cast votes in the last presidential primary in 2016.

Although LaRose said the election process hasn't been perfect, he applauded the governor and legislature's work to make voting safe during the pandemic.

"We didn't want people to have to choose between their constitutional right to vote and their health," LaRose said.

People with disabilities, who are homeless, or who requested ballots by the deadline but did not receive them in time are able to vote in-person Tuesday at their county board of elections. Voters can also submit their absentee ballots at each board's secure, curbside drop box.

Polls close at 7:30 p.m.

Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News