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In Rural Ohio, Business Owners Dread Having To Enforce Face Mask Mandate

Andy Mosier, manager of Mosier's Market in Raymond, where more people than usual were wearing face masks Thursday.
Nick Evans
Andy Mosier, manager of Mosier's Market in Raymond, where more people than usual were wearing face masks Thursday.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday announced plans to require businesses enforce the face mask mandate for employees and customers. It appears some residents in rural counties, where rates of new COVID-19 cases are outstripping their urban neighbors, were listening.

At Mosier’s Market in Raymond, the dozen or so customers lined up at the meat counter all had a mask on. One customer walking back to his car in the parking lot wasn’t wearing one, but he was the only person among the 20-odd customers there Thursday afternoon.

Manager Andy Mosier says masks do appear to be far more prevalent after the governor’s address.

“Yeah, I’d say today is kind of back to where it was right after the directive first came out, where just it’s a handful of people who aren’t wearing them," Mosier said.

Although Union County has less than one-tenth the total cases of nearby Franklin County, its per-capita rate—585 per 100,000—is higher and rising quickly. The rate there has almost doubled since last week.

Mosier says when statewide face mask order initially came down in July, compliance was high, but it steadily decreased over time. Before Wednesday's address, where DeWine threatened to shut down businesses that didn't comply, Mosier said it was maybe 50-50 whether a customer would come in wearing a mask.

“We’ve been instructed by the sheriff department and our health department not to confront them,” Mosier says. “People are fighting back and they’re claiming HIPAA laws, so we’re just, they told us it’s not a battle worth fighting.”

Under the governor’s new order, however, business owners may have to be more assertive when it comes to enforcing mask requirements. Mosier isn’t looking forward to that.

“You know, employees here, we have to wear them, we’ve been wearing them since April," Mosier said. "But to tell customers to, I don’t think that’s going to go over well. When it first started, we tried to mandate it and people said, 'Well, I’m never going to shop here again.'”

Out in the parking lot, Eileen Guy has just finished loading the milk and other groceries in her trunk. She's wearing a bright, grassy green mask, and agrees that more people appear to be wearing masks.

“Well, a lot of them are, a lot of them are,” Guy says. “But a lot of them still needs to do it, in order to get this down.”

She's quick to point out that people in the area haven’t been attentive enough about masks over the last few weeks.

“No. No,” she says. “They’ve been lacking. In the businesses, you go in the stores and they’re not wearing them anymore. A lot of them.”

In addition to the order strengthening mask requirements at businesses, DeWine promised another that would place new limits on social gatherings like weddings. He also warned if Ohio doesn’t see improvements by next week, state officials may have to order bars, restaurants and gyms to close again.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.