CINCINNATI — City Council passed a mandatory mask ordinance in a 7-2 vote at Friday afternoon’s emergency meeting.
The new law places Cincinnati alongside Dayton and Columbus, two other urban centers that have opted for a mask requirement as cases of COVID-19 spike around the state.
The original draft of the ordinance would have made the mask requirement effective July 7, but members of council’s budget and finance committee successfully argued to have it pushed back to July 9 in the final version. The new deadline is meant to give Cincinnatians, particularly small businesses, time to acquire masks without facing a penalty.
The penalty, when it arrives, will be the choice to either wear a mask provided by Cincinnati Health Department officials or face a $25 fine.
Ordinance authors Greg Landsman and Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney said they had chosen the $25 figure — less than half of Dayton’s $85 fine for people rejecting masks — specifically to keep the measure from being financially burdernome or harsher than necessary.
“We don't want to have this be punitive,” he said. “We want compliance. We want to increase the percentage of people wearing it. That is the goal."
Council’s only two “no” votes, Jeff Pastor and Betsy Sundermann, said they weren’t convinced.
“Given the climate that we're in, I don't think we need more enforcement (or) we need more policing,” Pastor said. “I think we need more creative things like passing out free masks to people."
Police won’t be the first line of response to calls about people not wearing masks, according the Lemon Kearney. Instead, people with worries about an unmasked person in their vicinity should call the Cincinnati Health Department at 513-357-7200 to reach a sanitarian.
Cincinnati officers should only be involved to assist sanitarians, she added.
“We have to just look at the fact that we have a responsibility to everybody,” Lemon Kearney said. “We have to help each other out."
Before the vote, Pastor — who is Black — voiced concerns that the ordinance would disproportionately affect Black Cincinnatians and those from lower-income households.
Landsman said the city will carefully track data about each call to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“If there’s a single disparity or anything that suggests there are disparities, we immediately take action,” he said.
Shortly after the ordinance passed, Ohio updated its daily COVID-19 diagnosis totals. Over 1,000 new cases had been diagnosed overnight.