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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine removes his face mask while preparing to make remarks in regards to the local spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations during a news conference on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, at Huntington Tri-State Airport.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday said he would have issued a statewide mask mandate to slow spiking cases of the coronavirus if the Legislature hadn’t tied his hands through a strict restriction on public health orders.

DeWine, a Republican, said he fears a fight with fellow GOP lawmakers, including one that might end up in court, could cause confusion at the worst time.

“I’m afraid what would happen is we would slide backwards and we would go the wrong way instead of the right way,” DeWine said.

DeWine, among the most aggressive of governors at the outset of the pandemic, has cited the restrictive legislation among his reasons for not imposing new mandates, as well as a belief that “the vast majority of people” nearly 18 months into the crisis want to make their own decisions.

DeWine made his comments as the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association called on eligible people to get vaccinated and to wear masks, particularly in schools. Leaders of the state’s six children’s hospitals said sick children are flooding hospitals and putting an unprecedented strain on providers. In some places, children with non-COVID-19 problems are forced to wait for hours or in some cases are simply leaving because of the overcrowding, medical officials said.

“Our inpatient numbers are the highest they’ve been during the pandemic for COVID positive children,” said Dr. Patty Manning, chief of staff, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“Our ICU numbers are the highest they’ve been for this entire pandemic,” she said. “Our children on ventilators with COVID are the highest they’ve been for this entire pandemic.”

DeWine, choking up with memories of taking his own children to hospitals, called those stories “gut-wrenching.”

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio has risen over the past two weeks from 4,460.71 new cases per day on Aug. 29 to 6,721.57 new cases per day on Sept. 12, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 6.2 million Ohioans, or 53% of the population, have started the coronavirus vaccine process, according to the state Health Department. About 5.7 million people, or 49% of the population, have completed the process.

In Kentucky, more than half of the state’s school districts have opted to continue requiring masks since the legislature shifted the coronavirus-related policy decision to local school boards.

So far, at least 90 of the state’s 171 public school districts had signaled by Tuesday afternoon that they will continue requiring masks in schools, according to the Kentucky School Boards Association. More school boards were scheduled to meet later in the day to discuss mask policies.

Last week, the Republican-led legislature voted to scrap a statewide mask mandate for public schools and imposed a ban on any statewide mask rules until June 2023. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the mask-related language, but GOP lawmakers overrode him before ending a special session. As a result, the statewide mask mandate approved by the state school board ends Friday.

Beshear has said it should be a clear-cut choice as local school leaders make their decisions.

“There is one right answer — where you choose masking, where you protect your kids, where you keep them in school,” the governor said at a Monday news conference. “And then there is one wrong decision, where you endanger children and you allow COVID to spread throughout your community when your hospital is already overburdened.”

On Tuesday, the state reported 4,030 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,154 cases among Kentuckians 18 and younger. Twenty-four more virus-related deaths occurred, raising the statewide death toll from the virus to at least 8,095.

More than 2,510 virus patients are hospitalized in Kentucky, and 666 of them are in intensive care units. Nearly 90% of the state’s ICU beds are occupied, the state reported.

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