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Coronavirus In Ohio: Some Law Enforcement Say They Won't Enforce Mask Mandate

A customer at Global Gallery in Clintonville wears a face mask while seated in the coffee shop's outdoor patio.
Mary Rathke
A customer at Global Gallery in Clintonville wears a face mask while seated in the coffee shop's outdoor patio.

The question of enforcement remains unclear after Gov. Mike DeWine issued a requirement that people in seven hot-spot counties wear masks inside businesses and public places. The mandate took effect Wednesday night.

Butler County is one of those seven counties marked in red on the state’s alert map, where the spread of COVID-19 is considered severe. Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones made his position clear: "I am not the mask police."

“I think we could have done this in a different way. But make no mistake about it, I as the Butler County Sheriff am not enforcing any mask-wearing whatsoever," Jones said in a press conference on Facebook.

The Cincinnati and Columbus police departments also say they won’t enforce county or city mask mandates.

A spokesman for DeWine said the goal isn’t to lock people up, but to get them to simply wear masks. He says health departments would enforce the mandate, and that law enforcement would only get involved in extreme circumstances, such as a person deliberately trying to infect others with coronavirus or disrupting business by refusing to comply with the mask mandate.

The mask mandate order has no expiration time, and DeWine said that the order expires in each county only when its case numbers drop so it's no longer listed as "red" or "purple" on the state's public health advisory system map.

No counties have yet moved into the "purple" category, although DeWine said Franklin County is in danger of doing so.

With some Republican state lawmakers' vocal and public opposition to wearing masks, it's also uncertain if DeWine’s mandate could be enforced on legislators.

Attorney General Dave Yost, who has said the city of Columbus’ mask mandate doesn’t apply to elected lawmakers and state officials on Capitol Square, referred the question about DeWine’s mask mandate back to the governor’s office.

A spokesman said DeWine respects that each branch of government has its own rules, implying the governor’s order wouldn’t cover state lawmakers. But the spokesman said DeWine encourages them to join the state agencies under the executive branch’s control in wearing masks.