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Coronavirus In Ohio: Face Mask Mandates Divide Ohioans

A collection of masks made by Sew-hio sewing club.
Marian Jacques
A collection of masks made by Sew-hio sewing club.

Twelve Ohio counties are under an order by Gov. Mike DeWine to wear masks in indoor spaces and outdoors where social distancing isn’t possible.

That order is meant to reduce coronavirus rates in areas of the state where the virus is raging out of control, but it's being met with somewhat mixed reaction.

Some Ohioans wouldn’t even consider not wearing a mask, including Christa Overton of Cincinnati.

“So for me, it’s just a no-brainer," Overton says. "It’s only a short period of time, then we will have a vaccine and get through the flu season. I mean, I don’t like wearing a mask, but I do because I think it’s safer for me, my family and other people I come in contact with."

Drew Silverthorn of New Philadelphia says he wears his mask religiously

“I also care for my mom, who has COPD, so we just try to take extra precautions to keep everybody safe,” he says.

Silverthorn’s wife, Kelli, has even made masks for others. Still, she says wearing a mask can be reason for judgment.

“In our community, because so many people don’t wear them, it’s actually a way for people to bully you,” she says.

Darlene Inscho of Delaware says she understands the disdain. She says she doesn’t wear a mask because doing so gives her panic attacks.

“If I even think about putting on a mask, I can feel my heart rate go up, and after about 15 seconds in a mask, I’m almost hyperventilating," Inscho says. "And after about a minute and a half in a mask, I see spots and I can’t wear anything across my face. There are lots and lots of us who panic when something is covering our faces or our mouths, and even talking about it, I just can’t wear one."

Some Ohioans say they won’t wear masks because they’re concerned about breathing in too much carbon dioxide - a myth that's been debunked by the Cleveland Clinicand other mainstream health organizations. The concern is also refuted by medical professionals, who wear masks for hours at a time, and by former Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, who resigned but remains on staff as an advisor to Gov. Mike DeWine.

“When we are out and about, going to the store, wearing this can make a difference in us spreading those respiratory droplets to other people,” Acton says.

However, for many, masks have also become a political statement. President Donald Trump was reluctant to wear masks, but did for the first time this weekend. And up to this point, some Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly haven’t been wearing them either.

State Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown) took to her Facebook page to openly defy the mask mandate in Butler County. Keller praised the sheriff and county health department for refusing to enforce it.

“I appreciate leadership that understands the power of the people. Let me remind you that in the state of Ohio, our constitution takes precedent over the Ohio Revised Code,” Keller says.

State Rep. Nino Vitale from nearby Urbana got national scrutiny for a Facebook post saying he wouldn’t wear a mask, and that others shouldn’t either, because face coverings hide people’s faces and humans are made in the image of God.

Vitale, who's clashed with DeWine and called Acton a "dictator," also recently posted a message urging constituents to stop getting tested.

Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford), who says he doesn’t own a mask, argues that he can’t enforce a mandate on other elected lawmakers.

“I can’t keep them away from here," Householder says. "I can’t require them to have their temperature taken. I can’t require them to wear a mask. I can’t even require them not to sit in their chairs. If the members want to sit in their chairs and cast their votes, there’s nothing I can do about that."

Columbus enacted a mask mandate before the state did. Attorney General Dave Yost says the city’s requirement wasn’t enforceable on state lawmakers.

A spokesman for DeWine’s office says he respects different branches of government have different rules, but the governor hopes lawmakers will join workers in agencies under the executive branch’s control and wear masks.

Medical experts say they’ll likely continue to recommend masks for a year or more until a vaccine or a treatment for the novel coronavirus is widely available.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.