In less than 24 hours, two local counties will be under a new statewide order mandating mask wearing. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the plan for the red or purple counties — at a level 3 or level 4 public health emergency — at his Tuesday news conference.
Starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Hamilton and Butler Counties will be under a mask mandate. Face coverings are required at any indoor location that is not a residence, outdoors when there is no way to social distance and on public transit – but exactly who will enforce the new rules and how is still unclear.
“You have to lead by example,” Black Owned Outerwear owner Means Cameron said.
The clothes at Cameron’s store communicate a message of solidarity, and that’s exactly what they expect from everyone who steps inside.
“The only way to shop inside the Black Owned store is to wear a mask,” Cameron said. “We started out giving away masks to the customers but then it became a repeated thing, so we figured ‘Well, we’ve got masks that we can sell you.’”
He said there’s been some pushback from the public, but mostly support.
The newly-launched Regional COVID Communications Center is also trying to get the community on board.
“For some people it may feel very constricting, but the mask will help save your life,” Dr. Michael A. Thomas with UC Health said.
Although the mandate doesn’t apply to all outdoor settings, Thomas said it’s still recommended.
“I think that wearing a mask is a condition that, from this point on, we have to get used to,” he said.
Butler County elected officials were quick to weigh in on that idea. Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey said she’s well aware that the majority of her residents are not in favor of the mask mandates.
“I did see two recent Facebook polls of over 700 votes from Middletown citizens,” Condrey said. “85% in one poll said they were not in favor and 72% in another poll.”
However, she said she’ll comply with DeWine’s mandate.
“My wearing of a mask in public right now, in public venues, is my personal overt gesture to those around me, that I care about them, I respect them and I value them,” Condrey said.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, who said he wears a mask in public, said, “I am not the mask police. I am not going to enforce any mask wearing.”
Jones said his opposition is, in part, a personnel issue.
“I want you to know the police are busy, our budgets have been cut, the fire department’s, everybody has less, just in the past few months,” Jones said. “This does not make it better.”
In Cincinnati and Norwood, enforcement will fall on the health department, although Norwood PD added it will step in to help if requested.
“It’s important that we all come together,” Cameron said.
Those who work in his downtown shop are buying in, even if that wasn’t always the case.
“At the beginning there was a little pushback, but I think now people realize that we’re doing it for their safety and our safety,” he said. “It’s all love down here on Elm.”
Children under 10, people with physician-approved medical exemptions and people who cannot safely wear a mask at work are not required to wear masks.
WCPO is still working to learn exactly how discrepancies in local and state mandates will be handled. This story will be updated when we have more information.