When You Do and Don't Need to Wear a Face Mask According to Cincinnati's New Facial Covering Ordinance

Cincinnati's new facial covering mandate goes into effect July 9. Here are the details.

click to enlarge When You Do and Don't Need to Wear a Face Mask According to Cincinnati's New Facial Covering Ordinance
Photo: Noah Syed

Cincinnati City Council has passed an ordinance requiring face masks in indoor public spaces in the city, including retail locations and on public transit.

Council members Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney and Greg Landsman introduced the ordinance after Dayton and Columbus approved similar rules. Landsman said the measure is intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 while allowing Cincinnati's economy to remain open.

The laws come as Ohio sees a pronounced spike in cases of the disease, especially in Hamilton County.

"If the numbers keep going in the direction they're going in, we're going to be faced with a hard decision," said Cincinnati Public Health Director Melba Moore, referring to shutting down businesses again. "This is about intervening to prevent more deaths."

So what's the fine print? Here are the details in the final version of passed emergency ordinance.

When does the emergency ordinance go into effect?

It takes effect July 9, 2020. 

How long will it last?

It will last as long as the mayor's Declaration of Emergency is in effect. Mayor Cranley issued that June 29, 2020. Under the city code, those can't extend beyond 60 days unless approved by council. Council can also declare an emergency no longer exists and end it.

What happens if you violate the ordinance?

Violating the ordinance will result in a civil, not criminal, charge punishable by a $25 fine.

Who is enforcing the ordinance?

The 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.

When do you have to wear a mask?

Individuals within the City of Cincinnati have to wear a facial covering over their nose and mouth when:

  • "Entering, exiting or waiting in an indoor line" to get into a public place of business — that means grocery stores, retail stores, pharmacies, health care facilities, restaurants and bars (while indoors), hotels and motels (unless you're in your rented room), gyms, etc. Religious facilities are not considered "places of business."
  • You also have to wear a mask on public transit, which includes the streetcar, bus, rideshare (aka Uber and Lyft), taxi or any other vehicle for hire.

When don't you have to wear a mask?

  • When you're outside and can social distance.
  • When you're at a restaurant or bar and are actively eating and drinking or when you're sitting outside. Otherwise, you need to have your mask on if you're wandering around the restaurant's public indoor spaces, like if you're going to the restroom.
  • When you're actively exercising in a gym or other indoor facility and you can maintain social distance.
  • When you're in your personal or commercial vehicle.
  • When you're in your own office, conference room or workspace that isn't intended for the public.
  • When you're engaged in an activity where it isn't feasible to wear a mask — like if you're receiving dental work, swimming, getting medical treatments, etc.
  • If you are working in your official capacity as a public safety employee or emergency responder and a facial covering would interfere with you carrying out your job i.e. if you're a firefighter, police or peace officer or emergency medical or public safety personnel.
  • If you're someone complying with the directions from one of the above. 
  • If you are on school grounds. Then you follow the discretion of the Ohio Department of Education and that school's governing body when it comes to mask use.

Who is exempt from the mask ordinance?

  • Individuals who can't wear a facial covering because of a medical condition, mental health condition or developmental disability.
  • Those who cannot remove a facial covering without assistance.
  • Those listed under CDC guidance as people who should not wear facial coverings.
  • Kids who are younger than 6 years old.

Do employees have to wear masks?

Yes. Employees that interact with the public must wear a mask and businesses will be allowed to refuse service to members of the public who are not wearing a mask.

Employees who don't have to wear a mask include those who are exempt by the Ohio Department of Health when mask use is a violation of industry standard, prohibited by law or regulation, not advisable for health reasons, violates documented safety policies, when there is a functional reason for the employee not wearing a mask or when the employee is working alone in an area not accessible to the public. 

What constitutes a facial covering exactly?

According to the city, it can be any kind of cloth or fabric or other material that covers your mouth and nose and "is secured with ear straps or otherwise tied so as to prevent slipping." It can be handmade, improvised, factory-made, etc.

What if I don't have a face mask?

Bandanas or scarfs work just fine, as long as you can securely tie them. We have a step-by-step guide on how to make your own at home with a bandana and hair elastics here.

Masks are also now widely available at stores like Kroger and Target in multipacks for less than $10. 

If you're a business, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber is also giving out free mask kits.

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