Once again masks are at the epicenter of controversy across the country. The latest lightning rod of news in Ohio is Gov. Mike DeWine’s four-level Ohio Public Health Advisory System that goes into effect when counties reach a specific rate of increase in coronavirus cases.
As of early this week, 12 counties hit Level 3, the red zone. Under the system, masks are mandatory in stores, restaurants, buses and public places. In addition, people are encouraged to limit travel and gatherings of any size. Cuyahoga County has been in the red zone, yet on a casual drive through the Chagrin Falls area earlier this week, we saw a crowd cheering at a youth league game in progress at a baseball field and a large group of people playing bocce. Few appeared to be wearing masks or standing 6-feet apart, as advised by medical experts. Sure, it was outside, but we didn’t see much space between individuals.
As of this writing, no counties in Ohio had reached Level 4, the purple zone, the highest on the scale, but state officials say Cuyahoga, Hamilton and Butler are dangerously close. People in the purple zone are urged to only travel when absolutely necessary and only leave home for supplies and services.
While we have appreciated Gov. DeWine’s guidance throughout this COVID-19 pandemic since March, specifics of the levels are vague and seemingly unenforceable. Except for the mask mandate, even Gov. DeWine’s staff said that residents in the red or purple zones should otherwise use their own judgment and weigh the possible risks of going out to eat, to shop or to workout at the fitness center.
Gov. DeWine also is leaving decisions of how to use the rating system up to local officials.
That has caused much confusion in Cuyahoga County. Right now, officials are grappling over who should enforce the mask mandate and how. Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish opened a hotline for people to report violations of the mask order, which carries a possible punishment of up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.
Yet, Mr. Budish said the hotline is not intended for people to go out looking for offenders. The goal is for people to wear masks voluntarily.
Mr. Budish said nobody wants to enforce this requirement. That’s what police are saying, too.
Orange Village police Lt. Patrick O’Callahan said officers will not be citing people for mask violations. Chagrin Falls Police Chief Amber Dacek said Chagrin Valley Dispatch is setting up an online form for violation reports that will be forwarded to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.
But a spokesman said the county health department has little enforcement authority when it comes to the mask mandate. So, do we depend on social pressure to shame people into wearing a mask in public? It sure seems that way.
We fully support wearing masks, washing hands often and standing 6-feet apart.
But we turn to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor for some clarity. “People will tell you, ‘I have a right not to wear a mask,’” she said, but “nobody focuses on their duty. What’s your duty to society? What’s your duty to your community? Your right not to wear a mask and potentially spread disease – what about your duty to your fellow Ohioans?”