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Columbus To Reissue Indoor Mask Mandate As COVID Numbers Rise

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Columbus' mask mandate will return, in response to rising numbers of COVID cases and hospitalization.

Standing in front of the Columbus Public Health Department Wednesday, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced that on Friday he will sign an executive order requiring masks for all people in publicly accessible indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status. It will go into effect immediately.

Ginther says the number of people currently hospitalized is rising, health care workers are suffering burnout, and the ability of the city's hospitals to handle routine cases is threatened. He says masks are the alternative to shutting down, as the city did during the winter COVID surge.

"Columbus is open for business. Our schools are open. Our health care professionals are at their breaking point. And we need to step up, mask up, and band together and bring down the number of infections and hospitalizations."

According to Columbus Public Health Director Dr. Mysheika Roberts, the city's positivity rate is over 9 percent - up from 2 percent in July. She says there were 25-hundred new cases last week, and children 11-years old and younger account for more than 15% of the city's positive cases. While 46 percent of the population is fully innoculated, the mask order covers everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

"It's important to remember, there are people with COVID who never get sick. They never have any symptoms, but they can be spreading the virus to others, even though they're vaccinated. So, that's why we wear our mask."

The rise in cases is also putting a strain on hospitals. Ohio State University Dr. Andy Thomas, who oversees Zone 2 of the state's COVID response, says the number of patients in the region currently hospitalized due to COVID has risen dramatically since August 1st.

"Just over 10 days ago on Sunday the 29th of August we crossed 600 patients with active COVID in the hospital in our zone. On Wednesday September 1st, we crossed 700 patients. On Monday, September 6th, Labor Day, we crossed 800 patients. And today, we've crossed 900 patients. So that's a change from August 1st from 150 patients in our zone in the hospital with COVID, and now we are over 900 - a six-fold increase just since August 1st."

Thomas say a third of the hospitals in the zone are evaluating elective surgeries on a daily basis, and may consider postponing them if the number of COVID patients continues to increase.

At Wednesday's press conference officials stressed the importance of masks, vaccines, and avoiding crowded indoor spaces - but declined to criticize one of the regions largest outdoor crowds -- Ohio State University football. A capacity crowd is expected for this Saturday's home opener against Oregon. Earlier this week OSU announced that masks would be required in all indoor spaces in the stadium - including elevators, restrooms, the press box, and first-aid rooms regardless of vaccination status. A new parking pass and ticket scanning app are available.

Columbus City Council is expected to take up mask mandate legislation on Monday, and Franklin County commissioners could consider a similar order today.

Complaints will be investigated by the city's Public Health Department. Violators will receive a warning on a first complaint, but could face a 1,000 fine for a third.

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