By Andrea Cordle
Grove City Council was considering legislation to make face coverings mandatory in any public space to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. The issue was introduced and debated at the July 6 meeting.
Council had decided to postpone the legislation to allow for more public input. Members voted to hold a special meeting on July 9 to discuss the matter.
However, on July 7, a decision by the Ohio Department of Health made the city legislation a moot point.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that effective July 8, a department of health order would mandate face coverings in public in Franklin County.
Under the Public Health Advisory Alert System, Franklin County is listed as a level three, with very high exposure and spread. Residents are asked to limit activities as much as possible. Level four is the highest ranking, with severe exposure and spread where residents would be asked to only leave home for supplies or service.
Council President Christine Houk introduced the legislation in Grove City because she was concerned that local businesses could be forced to temporarily shut down again if the county were to jump into level four.
“I have spent my career invested in small businesses and their success,” said Houk. “We are at a point where we need to step in, empower our residents and keep the economy going.”
The city of Columbus and several other municipalities in central Ohio had already mandated face coverings in a public setting where physical distancing is not possible.
“We have to follow the science,” said Houk. “Wear a mask as protection to others.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that Americans wear cloth face coverings in public to slow the spread of COVID-19. The recommendation was made, according to the organization, based on studies that show a significant proportion of people with COVID-19 lack symptoms and can transmit the virus to others in close proximity, through speaking, coughing, sneezing other means.
According to the order by the department of health, residents are required to wear a face covering in any indoor location that is not a residence, when outdoors and unable to consistently maintain a physical distance of six feet from others, and while using public modes of transportation.
Those exempt from the mandate include children under the age of 10, those with a medical condition that would prevent them from wearing a mask, and those who need to communicate with a hearing impaired individual.
The state’s order was similar to the legislation proposed by city council.
Council members were split on the face covering mandate when it was debated at the July 6 meeting. Councilman Roby Schottke said he knows face coverings can be uncomfortable but called them necessary to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Councilman Ted Berry said he sees both sides of the issue but supports a measure requiring face coverings.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic,” said Berry. “We believe in the what the governor is doing. Wearing a mask is a sign of respect.”
Councilman Randy Holt called the legislation government overreach.
“I prefer we make this a business owners’ decision and operate under the no shirts, no shoes, no service model,” said Holt.
Councilman Aaron Schlabach said he is concerned about the government mandate and the precedent it would set.
Despite the ordinance being added at the last minute, several community members addressed council and the issue at hand. Most were in favor of the face covering mandate.
Local small business owner Jeffrey Tadlock said the face coverings are inconvenient but necessary to slow the spread of the virus and get back to normal.
“It takes a community to come together for the greater good,” he said. “This is a public health emergency and the government needs to protect the public health.”
Grove City resident Starlett Chesser said there are a lot of elderly people in the area and city leaders need to protect those citizens. She said she is tired of going to the local grocery store to see only half the customers wearing face coverings.
“We can’t believe there is a cure right around the corner,” said Chesser. “You need to mask up and keep your germs to yourself.”
Resident Roger Burket said council should not approve the measure as there was no public notice.
Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage said he agrees with the “spirit” of the legislation and its goals but said city leaders need to manage expectations.
“There are hurdles for our police department to clear,” said Stage. “Officers cannot go around to every store to make sure everyone is wearing a mask.”
The Ohio Department of Health will update county rankings every Thursday. Any county that increases to a level three will be mandated to have citizens use a face covering. Once a county shows a decrease in spread and drops a level, the face covering mandate would be eliminated.
For more information, visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.