COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — February has seen a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases nationwide, as well as an increasing number of liberal states easing their mask mandates.
Democrat-controlled Delaware, Nevada, New York, and Rhode Island are among states to lift all or some statewide mask rules in the past two weeks, and governors in California, Illinois, and elsewhere plan to follow by the end of the month.
Ohio, a conservative-leaning state with Republicans controlling the governorship and legislature, hasn’t had a mask mandate since last summer. But blue Columbus has required masks in public settings for more than five straight months.
What needs to happen in Columbus?
City leaders have deferred to Columbus Public Health (CPH) for guidance on the mandate. The department’s recommendations are tied to data tracked by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its color-coded map of U.S counties.
Red is the highest level, then orange, yellow, and blue.
“While numbers are moving in the right direction, we are still in CDC’s red category for high community transmission for our case rate and the orange category for substantial community transmission for our positivity rate,” CPH spokesperson Kelli Newman told NBC4 in a statement Monday.
CPH’s recommendation is that Franklin County moves into the yellow category on those metrics — case rate over the last seven days and test positivity rate over the last seven days — for four consecutive weeks. So, even if the county reached its goal tomorrow, it would still need to stay there for a month.
“To move to the yellow level, Franklin County needs to get down to a positivity rate of 5 to 7.99% and have a case rate of 10-49 per 100,000,” Newman said.
As of Monday, the CDC map shows Franklin County with a 9.46% test positivity rate and a case rate of 171.79 per 100,000 people. And while those rates are on a downward trend, they haven’t been for long enough.
“Things are improving,” Newman said, “but we are not there yet.”
What’s in Columbus’ mask mandate?
Columbus’ mask mandate requires any resident over 3 years old – regardless of vaccination status – to wear a face-covering in indoor public spaces. The ordinance follows the original one passed in July 2020, but it added a regular 30-day check-in window for CPH to report changes in COVID-19 to city council.
People who don’t comply will first be given a warning, then fined $100 by CPH for a second violation and $250 for each subsequent violation. Businesses that don’t comply will also be warned on first offense but will be fined $500 for a second violation and then $1,000 for each violation after that.
The mandate is in place until city council lifts it or Mayor Andrew Ginther rescinds the city’s current emergency proclamation.