CINCINNATI — The increase in COVID-19 cases and the desire to get back to daily life are two of the reasons the Hamilton County Commission president and the county health department are urging people to comply with the mandatory mask order that goes into effect Wednesday evening.
“I applaud Gov. Dewine’s order to require masks,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus. “Masking up keeps our loved ones safe and our businesses open. We have been working with the governor in recent days on an approach that is streamlined and consistent throughout Hamilton County.”
In a weekly update Wednesday morning, Driehaus shared the latest COVID-19 numbers in Hamilton County. She said there are a total of 6,158 cases in the county, with an increase of 1,148 new positive cases since last week.
“We are continuing to trend in the wrong direction,” Driehaus said. “These numbers should give us pause and make us reflect on what we are doing individually to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Hamilton County.”
Interim Health Director Greg Kesterman said Hamilton County’s recent COVID-19 data showed 55 people have been hospitalized in local intensive care units — close to April's all-time peak of 75. The number of coronavirus patients receiving non-ICU care in Hamilton County hospitals is higher than it's ever been.
“We are absolutely trending in the wrong direction, which makes it even more important that we start to change things up,” Kesterman said.
He said about three or four weeks ago, his department saw about 20 to 30 new cases a day in its jurisdiction. Now, it’s seeing about 70 to 100 new cases per day.
With these trends, Kesterman said, it’s not a surprise that public health is in favor of a mandate that requires mask-wearing.
“The goal with this masking mandate is to get people to care about one another, to help the community stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the lives of those in Hamilton County,” Kesterman said.
The Hamilton County Health Department will be responding to complaints called in to the office about non-compliance with the ordinance.
Kesterman said the process will work in a similar fashion to how his department handled non-compliance complaints during the initial business shut-down this spring. However, Kesterman said his department will act more like an educator than an enforcer.
“This is not about trying to catch people doing the wrong thing,” he said. "This is about us as a community coming together, working as a team to reduce the cases of COVID-19 within Hamilton County."
Kesterman said he knows there won’t be 100% compliance, but hopes that people will follow the order out of respect for one another.
“As we continue to open up more, it’s more important than ever to respect the people that are working to serve us in these businesses and in these restaurants, as well as each other," he said. “Wear a mask, stay home if you’re sick and treat workers like the heroes they are for putting themselves at risk while they help us.”
Driehaus used the idea of getting back activities that are quintessentially Cincinnati as another motivation to implore people to comply. She talked about going to Oktoberfest or a Bengals game in the fall.
“I mean, are we going to be able to do any of this stuff? Not if we have continued to increase in our community, no, the answer’s no.” she said. “To the nay-sayers and the folks that don’t want to do it, then I say, well, then we should expect a delay in all of the things that we enjoy in this community."
The mask order, which goes into effect at 6 p.m. Wednesday, applies to people in indoor public settings, including workplaces, in outdoor settings that do not permit six feet of social distancing and on public transportation or inside ride-sharing vehicles.
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.