Health officials in Hamilton and Butler counties spent Wednesday afternoon waiting. Although Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s mandatory mask order was scheduled to become law in seven COVID-heavy counties at 6 p.m., representatives of local health departments said they were unsure how they were expected to enforce it.
It’s their job, according to DeWine’s office. The Butler County Sheriff’s Office, Norwood Police Department and Cincinnati Police Department all issued statements saying people concerned about violations should not contact law enforcement — they should call health departments.
"I am not going to enforce any mask-wearing," Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said Tuesday night. "That is not my responsibility, that is not my job. People should be able to make that choice themselves."
Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer said she doesn’t plan to be the “mask police” either, but her department will use local fire stations to distribute masks to people who do not have them already. She did not identify specific locations or a start date for the distribution.
“We will do everything we possibly can to assist our citizens in complying with this order in wearing of masks,” she said Tuesday.
The full order was released publicly at 7 p.m. Wednesday, which left health officials, journalists and people in the affected counties working largely off of DeWine's verbal instructions from the Tuesday announcement.
People who do not comply with the order can be charged with a second-degree criminal misdemeanor, although DeWine did not specify how health officials were expected to file the charge.
Here’s what we know right now.
When does the order take effect?
At 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Which counties have to mask up?
All seven of the affected counties are places where the Ohio Department of Health has observed “very high exposure and spread” of COVID-19. They appear red on the department's color-coded state map, which marks each county on a scale from least concern (yellow) to most (purple).
Where do I have to wear my mask?
In "public spaces," according to DeWine, which include indoor settings that aren't residences, outdoor settings where social distancing is not possible, and the insides of public transit and ridesharing vehicles.
Is anyone exempt?
- Children under the age of 10
- People with disabilities that prevent them from independently putting on or removing a mask
- People with physician-approved medical exemptions
- People who cannot safely wear a mask at work
- Students, teachers and school district staff on school grounds, all of whom should instead follow the applicable school district guidelines.
- People who are communicating with someone who has a hearing impairment or someone who needs to see mouth movements to communicate.
- People in enclosed spaces, like offices or places not usually frequented by the public.
- People exercising in a gym or indoor sports facility, provided social distancing practices are in place.
- People participating in an athletic practice, scrimmage or competition permitted by a separate Department of Health order.
- People who are seated and actively eating or drinking in a restaurant or bar.
- People engaged in public safety services, including firefighters, police officers and EMTs.
- People officiating religious services.
- People who are actively participating in broadcast communications.
What happens if I don't wear one?
Specific answers about how enforcement will be executed remained scarce Wednesday evening, and the full order does not make specific mention of penalties for noncompliance. DeWine said in his Tuesday news conference that people who do not comply can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.
WCPO reached out to the governor's office Wednesday night for clarification and will update this story when we hear back.
When will this end?
When your county becomes yellow or orange on the Ohio Department of Health's state map, representing a lower threat level than red or purple.
Read the full mask order, signed Wednesday by the interim health commissioner, in the viewer below: