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Nearly 60% of Ohio to be under mask mandate as virus spreads

By FARNOUSH AMIRI Report for America/Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A day after a statewide address pushing the importance of personal responsibility in combating the coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered nearly 60% of Ohioans to wear a mask in public Thursday.

The Republican governor has been facing a bumpy road out of the state’s shutdown, opting to issue countywide mask mandates rather than covering the whole state, but he continues to make the point that Ohioans, more than him alone, have the power to defeat COVID-19.

On Thursday, the state reported 1,290 positive cases, with 28 deaths and 115 virus-related hospitalizations. The numbers of daily cases are more than double what they were last month as the state was beginning to ease into reopening businesses.

DeWine said the state is now “sliding down a very dangerous path” as the majority of the infections in each of the counties listed as red on the state’s color-coded alert system happened outside of congregate settings and some of it from travel to states like Florida and Arizona.

In Ohio, 19 counties — with more than half the state’s population — are now listed as red on the alert system. Residents of each of those counties are required to wear a mask when in public.

Athens County, which is now on the state’s watchlist, has had more COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks than they have had during the whole pandemic, DeWine said during the briefing.

Athens County officials reported at least three outbreaks at local bars, all of which have now closed after some staff tested positive.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Ohio:

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UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

Ohio saw 35,422 reported jobless claims in the week ending July 11, the state Department of Job and Family Services announced Thursday.

While the number of jobless claims continues to decrease since the peak of the pandemic, the total number of claims in the past four months is more than the combined total of those filed during the last three years.

The weekly unemployment payments through the federal CARES Act are scheduled to expire on July 25. If it is not extended by Congress, hundreds of thousands of unemployed Ohioans will stop receiving the $600 weekly payment.

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MASK VIOLATION HOTLINE

The vast majority of complaints logged over the first weekend of Cuyahoga County’s new mask violation hotline related to customers or employees of businesses failing to wear masks, Cleveland.com reports.

More than 2,500 complaints have been filed since County Executive Armond Budish’s administration rolled out the service July 10. More than 500 were received by the next Monday, with 80% involving failure to wear masks at businesses, the news outlet found. Other complaints largely related to mask violations in public places, such as parks.

Budish said complaints are being passed on to the relevant business or agency. In cases of “serious non-compliance,” the sheriff’s department will investigate.

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.