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Columbus Public Health Says Mask Enforcement Will Be Complaint-Driven

Stack of disposable paper face masks
Mika Baumeister

With Columbus City Council approving a citywide mask mandate that began Tuesday morning, Columbus Public Health will be in charge of enforcing the ordinance.

The mandate, which was approved Monday night amid a city council meeting that faced disruption from anti-mask audience members, will not have any law enforcement involvement unless individuals refuse to leave complying establishments.

Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts said enforcing the ordinance will be a complaint-driven process for businesses who violate the mandate.

But for individuals, it will be a little harder to enforce strictly with complaints, Roberts said. She added that one example for enforcement could be if a complaint against an establishment is due to only one individual not complying.

"This is something important to keep our community open and safe, and we want our businesses to be open and to thrive," she said. "And in order to do that, they need to have patrons to be healthy enough to come in, and they can remain healthy by one, getting vaccinated, and two, wearing a mask."

But in order to keep businesses open and thriving, she said the mandate is important in order to protect their workers.

"But most importantly they need personnel. They need work staff that can be healthy and safe as well," she said. "And the one way we can protect our staff working in the food service as well as retail environment is for visitors coming into those indoor environments to wear a mask."

And for repeat violators, Roberts said they are working with the city attorney's office to figure out next steps for those businesses.

"Public Health appreciates the authority to enforce this ordinance both for businesses and individuals, but the bottom line is that our first focus is about education and trying to keep our community healthy and safe," she said.

Roberts added that last time the city mandated masks in July 2020, there was additional support from the state, like when it led to a statewide mandate and when compliance from some businesses were tied to their liquor licenses. But she said she doesn't expect the state to make any moves this time.

For those who CPH issues citations to, first violations for businesses and individuals will be a warning. Second is $500 for businesses and $100 for individuals. Subsequent violations are $1,000 for businesses and $250 for individuals.

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.