Enforcing the mask ordinance, businesses try to self govern


COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The state-issued order requiring face masks in all indoor places other than a residence took effect in Franklin County on Wednesday. Across the county, many businesses were adding signs to their storefront alerting customers that they need a mask to come inside.

Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts explained the mask ordinance will be enforced through a complaint-driven process.

“Someone would have to report a business or establishment that they find is not following the order and then when we get that complaint we would go to the business and follow up to see if they were compliant or not,” Dr. Roberts said. “If we see that a business is doing nothing, is grossly failing to comply with the order, they will first be warned. They will get some education and a warning letter from us.”

Dr. Roberts said a second violation will trigger a $500 fine.

Making sure customers comply falls on the shoulders of individual business owners like Raj Lahodi, owner of the Union Cafe in the Short North.

“It’s not easy but it just takes training,” Lahodi said. “It’s the new normal for a small period of time and you just have to have your hosts let people know they have to have a mask. We’re offering free masks to our guests if they forget.”

Lahodi says one of the face mask challenges for restaurants and bars is when customers who have been eating or drinking get up to go to the restroom.

“We just give them gentle reminders if they forget and let them know they have to have it,” he said. “If someone continually forgets, then obviously we’ll have to ask them to leave the venue to protect our staff and other guests.”

Public health officials have been inspecting businesses for weeks,checking for compliance with employee mask requirements and physical distancing.

The focus now will be on everyone wearing a mask.

“What we’ve seen in the community is over 95 percent of businesses are compliant,” Dr. Roberts said. “That means there’s a small percentage, very small, five percent or less that are not compliant and our job is to make sure as many business as possible are compliant.”

The state face mask order went into effect Wednesday for Franklin, Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Huron, Montgomery and Trumbull counties based on their coronavirus Level 3 Alert.

Seven more counties were elevated to Level 3 on Thursday and will have a face mask order go into effect at 6 p.m. on Friday. Those counties are Butler, Clermont, Fairfield, Lorain, Pickaway, Summit and Wood counties. Huron County dropped from Level 3 to Level 2.

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