The state said no to masks. Now, Ohio cities are saying yes.

By: - July 2, 2020 1:10 am

A resident waits in line to vote at a polling place. Photo by Scott Olson | Getty Images.

The governor dithered. The state legislature said no way.

So on Tuesday, the Springfield City Commission took it upon itself to pass a resolution (which lacks the force of law) calling for all residents to cover their faces while indoors, a practice research says will slow the spread of COVID-19 through Ohio.

By Wednesday, Dayton became the first major city in Ohio to require masks by law. Similarly, Yellow Springs passed a resolution and Bexley passed a local ordinance requiring masks.

“The mask is a symbol of freedom,” said David Estrop, a Springfield city commissioner, at a hearing, echoing comments from the governor. “It allows us to continue to reopen this state, yet do so in a way that’s safe.”

On Wednesday, the Ohio Department of Health reported more than 1,000 new cases, the first time that stat has reached quadruple digits since officials mass-tested inmates in three state prisons in late April. Wednesday marks 16 days of the coronavirus accelerating its spread, as measured by the 10-day average new caseload.

Despite the worsening coronavirus outlook in Ohio and nationwide, state lawmakers continue to whip up anti-mask fervor. While Gov. Mike DeWine encourages everyone to wear masks, he has refrained from issuing any statewide mandate as the national epidemic worsens and states pause their economic re-openings.

DeWine demurs

In April, Gov. Mike DeWine took a hardline stance on masks, saying they’d be the only way business can reopen after he lifted the stay-at-home order.

Facing pressure from fellow Republican officeholders, he reversed after he realized how “offended” people were by the concept.  

Last week, referencing worsening outbreaks in Montgomery and Hamilton counties, DeWine floated the idea of implementing a mask mandate on a county-by-county basis.

However, he has yet to issue any such order. A spokesman declined to say whether DeWine will announce any mask requirement at his next briefing.

In a statement Wednesday, DeWine applauded Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, for requiring the use of face coverings.

“Wearing a mask will allow us to help keep businesses open and help prevent further spikes,” he said. “I encourage other communities to consider following Dayton’s lead.”

Voted down

Where masks have found friends in the public health community and Ohio cities, they found enemies in the GOP-controlled state General Assembly.

Both the Speaker of the House and the Senate President have refused to wear masks at legislative functions.

House leadership voted down a requirement in May that lawmakers and staff wear masks at the Capitol. With exceptions, masks have fallen along party lines — Democrats wear them and Republicans do not.

In a Facebook post last week, Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, campaigned on refusing to wear masks, let alone supportinng legislation requiring them.

“It’s my RIGHT not to wear a mask, and I do NOT support a government that tries to quarantine the healthy,” he wrote.

Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, takes to social media regularly to promote baseless conspiracy theories about masks limiting blood oxygen or how they “force virus into the brain.”

Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, produced a Facebook video June 25 criticizing Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation for distributing masks to Ohio businesses.

Despite the lawmakers’ claims, research suggests masks are an effective, inexpensive and uninvasive way to slow the spread of COVID-19.

An early June study published in The Lancet, a premier medical journal, analyzed 172 observational studies to gauge the efficacy of mitigation strategies. Researchers found wearing face masks results in a “large reduction” in the risk of infection.

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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.