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CEREDO — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, during a stop at the Huntington Jet Center at Tri-State Airport on Monday, said there’s “no place to hide” from the coronavirus, which has led to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in southeast Ohio and surrounding areas.

“Sadly, the virus is spreading throughout southern Ohio at a rapid pace, just like it is throughout the state of Ohio,” DeWine said.

DeWine said during the spring and summer, people in Lawrence, Gallia and Jackson counties may not have even known anyone with COVID-19.

“Today there is really no place to hide,” he said. “We are seeing increased cases in every single county in the state.”

DeWine said in the last month, Ohio has seen a seven to eight times increase in the number of people going to the hospital.

“A month ago we had a 1,000 people in the hospitals from COVID,” he said. “A week ago, we had 2,000 and today we have 3,000. Statewide, Ohio was averaging about 1,000 cases a day about six weeks ago. Now, we are at somewhere between 7,500 and 8,000 cases a day, which is a dramatic increase. So it’s going up at a very fast rate.”

DeWine says Scioto, Lawrence, Gallia and Jackson counties reported at least a five times higher incidence rate than reports from six weeks ago.

“That 500 cases or more per 100,000,” he said. “Those increases are just in the last week. If we look at Vinton County it’s two and a half times and Meigs County has doubled.”

DeWine says he took action last week to enforce the state’s mask order.

“We have had a mask order on every county in Ohio since July,” he said.

As of Monday, inspectors with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation will be going to retail outlets around the state to enforce the mask order, according to DeWine.

“Why do we do that? Let’s say there is a retail clerk working there that is 65 and a diabetic, she has every right to be protected and be protected from someone who might come into that store that is potentially positive for COVID and not know it, probably doesn’t know it, and decides not to wear a mask,” DeWine said.

“The idea is not to be punitive with anybody. The idea is just to say look we have to step our game up here and people need to wear masks,” he said. “We don’t want any confrontations with the people who work at the store. We hope they’re going to be nice and ask the people to wear masks and we just hope the people will do that. We go into stores now in some of our rural areas and only 20% of the people are wearing masks and that is just a problem.”

Dr. Michael Canady, the chief executive officer for Holzer Health System, joined the governor at the press conference and said in the system’s coverage area that includes five southeastern Ohio counties and Mason County, West Virginia, cases are surging.

“In the last seven days we have seen 172 new cases,” Canady said.

Canady said rural communities on southeast Ohio were relatively spared from the virus during the spring and summer, but that’s not the case today.

“That has changed dramatically in the last few weeks,” he said. “I guess we can take some solace in the fact the number of deaths hasn’t increased as dramatically as the cases have, but we see no end in sight.”

Canady said he feels personally that there has been some laxity in wearing masks in social areas and retail businesses over the last several months.

“Particularly in our part of the country and out part of Ohio,” he said. “We have been worried that it might lead to increased spread in our communities and I think we are seeing the results of that at this point.”

Canady said wearing a mask is the most important thing someone can do right now to help slow the spread of the virus.

“The mask I wear is not for me, it’s to protect others from me if I happen to have the virus because the virus is insidious. We can have it for even up to two weeks and not even know we have it and be spreading it.”

Canady said staffing is also a big concern as the virus cases continue to spike.

“We are not overwhelmed at Holzer at this point in time, but we are certainly trending upward,” he said. “We have seen upwards of 20 hospitalizations in our small system.”

Canady added that cases and hospitalization increases have a lag.

“That lag is sometimes two to three weeks,” he explained. “Anything that we do today doesn’t have much effect two to three weeks down the line, so I encourage everyone to wear the mask everywhere. It’s the only thing we have right now until the vaccine comes out.

DeWine said the Trump administration has said the vaccine could be available to Ohio and the rest of the country as early as December.

“The good news is that a vaccine is on the way,” he said. “Until then we’ve got to slow this down. The only way we slow this down is wearing masks.”

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD or email him at fpace@hdmediallc.com.

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