The City of Cincinnati and the entirety of both Hamilton and Butler counties have mask mandates that are now in effect. Basically, you have to wear a mask in public — inside — and outside if you can't socially distance, with some exceptions.
So, who is enforcing the new rule? Local health departments, that's who.
And that's who you need to call if you see some kind of wildly flagrant mask-wearing violation. Large groups of strangers sitting in a close circle coughing and licking each other while sweating out a fever? Maybe call the health department. A party of 22 rubbing their bare faces on an unattended salad bar inside a restaurant? Call the health department. Someone on the bus who seems like they forgot their mask? Maybe don't.
And whatever you do, do not call 911 or the Cincinnati Police Department if you see someone without a face mask on out in the world. Not wearing a mask is not an emergency. It might be a dick move, but it's not an emergency. (Also, that person may have an actual legitimate medical reason for not wearing a mask besides "freedom.")
According to the Ohio Department of Health order (which is pretty much the same as the City of Cincinnati order), here's where and when you need to wear a mask in Hamilton and Butler county:
- In any indoor location that is not a residence;
- If you're outdoors and unable to consistently maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from individuals who are not members of your household;
- While waiting for, riding, driving or operating public transportation, a taxi, a private car service or a ride sharing vehicle. This does not apply to private or rental vehicles where members of a family are sharing a vehicle. This does not apply to vehicles engaged in direct travel through a county that does not stop in that county.
Here's when you don't:
- If you're 10 or younger;
- If you have a medical condition, including a respiratory condition that restricts breathing; a mental health condition; or a disability that contraindicates the wearing of a facial covering;
- If you're seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired or has another disability where the mouth is essential for communication;
- If you are alone in an enclosed space, like an office, which is not intended for public use;
- If you're actively engaged in exercise in a gym or indoor facility as long as 6 feet or more of distance can be maintained between you and another individual;
- If you're actively participating in athletic practice, a scrimmage or competition permitted under the Department of Health order;
- If you're actively engaged in a public safety capacity, like law enforcement, firefighting or emergency medicine;
- If you're seated and consuming food or beverages in a restaurant or bar;
- If facial coverings are prohibited by law or regulation;
- If facial coverings are a violation of documented industry standards;
- If facial coverings are a violation of a business's documented safety policies;
- If you're actively engaged in broadcast communications;
- Or if you're an officiant of a religious service.
You must wear a face mask until the counties are no longer classified as a Level 3: Red county under the new Public Health Advisory Alert System.
The City of Cincinnati's mask ordinance will last as long as the mayor's Declaration of Emergency is in effect. Mayor Cranley issued that June 29, 2020. Violating the city ordinance can result in a civil, not criminal, charge punishable by a $25 fine.
The city ordinance empowers the Cincinnati Health Department to enforce the law. Those wishing to report noncompliance are asked to call the Health Department at 513-357-7200 instead of calling the police. The health department will first offer a mask to someone who is not wearing one. If you refuse, then you'll be issued a citation. (If you get a fine and you want to appeal it, you can do so at the Office of Administrative Hearings.)
For the counties, here's the number for Hamilton County Public Health 513-946-7800 and for the Butler County General Health District 513-863-1770.
In a press briefing on July 8, Interim Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman said, "I think it's really important to realize when the governor rolled this out a couple days ago, he didn't call this a mask enforcement mandate, he called this a mandate to wear masks. The word 'enforcement' is really just one piece of the entire puzzle for getting compliance."
He says his team has always been about education over enforcement.
"Our goal has been to work with individuals to help them understand what is required to get through this pandemic," he says, adding anyone who doesn't have a mask, they'll give a mask.
The Hamilton County Sheriff has released a statement that says not to call them to report a violation. "Because this is a health related order, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office will not enforce this mandate," reads the release. "Citizens should not call a Sheriff's District, Communications Center or 911 for potential violations of this health related mandate."
In Butler County, it's unclear how the order will be enforced at this time.
"I am not the mask police. I am not going to enforce any mask wearing," said Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones. "That is not my responsibility. That is not my job. People should be able to make that choice themselves."
"If someone's sick, I can understand the mask wearing. But for all of us to have to have your temperature taken, to have to wear a mask, where's it going to stop?" he added.
Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer also said it's a fluid situation about how her health department would be enforcing the mask ordinance. And the health department posted on Facebook, "We will take all complaints from the public about persons not wearing masks, and will follow up as we are able."
Butler County is also handing out free masks at fire stations and some local businesses.
Norwood Police Department also asked the public not to call them about mask enforcement. And they too have helped hand out free face masks from a Norwood citizen.
"We also want to make sure people understand that the NPD is 100% in favor of wearing a face mask or shield," they wrote in a Facebook post.
"This is a order issued by the Ohio Department of Health. Therefore it is a health related order and will not be enforced by the NPD. We ask that you not call our emergency communication center to report violations of this order. It would be extremely easy to inundate our call center with non emergency calls, while placing true emergencies on hold."