Mask complaints are flooding into local health departments

Hamilton County reports masking violations at banks, restaurants, schools
Posted at 5:37 PM, Jul 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-21 18:19:40-04

CINCINNATI — Hamilton County, among the darkest spots on the Ohio Department of Health’s COVID-19 heat map, has recorded hundreds of masking violations in hotels, pizza parlors, schools, banks and private parties since Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s first mandatory masking order went into effect.

“The majority of businesses are doing this right,” Hamilton County health commissioner Greg Kesterman said Tuesday. “And it’s really about making a shift of behavior and getting everyone to follow compliance and to follow it through with this new order.”

Kesterman estimated Hamilton County Public Health gets roughly 40 new complaints each day, totaling 368 since July 8.

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The department doesn’t investigate every single one of them in person. The first reported violation results in a phone call.

If a second complaint is reported, a health worker — one of Kesterman’s team of 13 — visits in person.

A citation only arrives then, and only if the subject of the complaint continues to refuse masking and sanitation practices to protect others from COVID-19.

But it’s usually not necessary, according to Kesterman. He said many of the violations come from misunderstandings or individuals who did not realize what they were required to do.

“Many places still don’t know exactly what is required of them,” he said. “Our phone call makes a big difference of shifting the compliance with the orders.”

He added he tries to impress upon business owners the importance of observing best practices for their own sake, not just because the government requires it.

“There certainly are businesses that aren’t interested in working with this new mandate,” he said. “They feel like it’s not their requirement to wear masks, and it’s really about educating them. The majority of customers, they understand that they want to go to a store that has the appearance of being safe. And businesses that are choosing not to follow these mandates are making themselves look unsafe.”

Kesterman’s Clermont County counterpart, environmental health director Maalinii Vijayan, said she’s been challenged by the volume of complaints entering her office but found businesses to be amenable when she reaches out.

“Businesses are working diligently to develop these policies and also work with the customers and educating them,” she said.

Hamilton, Butler and Clermont are the only Tri-State counties where residents are currently required to wear masks in public.

Representatives of Butler County Health did not respond to WCPO’s request for comment.