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Coronavirus

Athens Mask Mandate Could Preview Columbus Ordinance

A sign on face mask requirements at Sierra Trading Post in Easton.
Darrin McDonald
/
WOSU

Last week, Mayor Andrew Ginther signed an executive order mandating all individuals regardless of vaccination status to wear masks indoors, with the intention of creating an official ordinance with Columbus City Council when they resume session this week. But one city in Southeast Ohio has had one in place since last month.

On Aug. 16, the Athens City Council approved an ordinance requiring everyone to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. The city's actions could be a preview of what's to come in Columbus.

Athens Area Chamber of Commerce President Dani Underhill said the ordinance passed last month was mainly just a amendment on the city's previous ordinance, which only required masks indoors for unvaccinated individuals. Even then, they said many businesses in the city still required them.

"The community here does a really good job in trying to protect one another, and our business community is included in that," she said. "So they were pretty well supportive about the masks."

They added that when the ordinance passed, business owner and consumer feedback was fairly positive, even with frustrations about having to wear a mask again.

"Even if there are grumblings and frustration, there's understanding of kind of why's and how's behind it," Underhill said. said. "Our bar and restaurant folks here and group here seem to be pretty well on the same page with understanding that we all have to take a step forward consistently in order to protect everyone."

Even at last week's press conference, Ginther said he understood those in Columbus' frustration, even mentioning he enjoyed not having to wear a mask for a few weeks when going out. But he said his executive order was to keep schools open, help the economy and help relieve strain from frontline health care workers.

"We need to mask up, band together and bring down the number of infections and hospitalizations," Ginther said. "We cannot be discouraged or deterred. We are taking full advantage of knowledge and resources that are safe, effective and accessible."

But for cities like Columbus and others beginning to require masks again, like Bexley and Whitehall, Underhill said that everyone is "just trying their best" to keep their communities safe, especially with the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant.

"A lot of this still is uncertain, a lot of it we think are certain but who knows in hindsight and looking back, we could've been way off base," they said. "And so I try to remember and know that everyone regardless of where they're at is doing the best they think they can."