MANSFIELD -- Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker, and at least three City Council members, do not believe masks should be mandatory in the city at this time, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine could take that decision out of the mayor's hands -- and for all of Richland County.
During a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, DeWine announced that effective on Wednesday at 6 p.m., a new state health department order will mandate face coverings in public for all counties designated as Level 3 or Level 4, following the Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System he announced July 2.
The alert system is a color-coded, county-by-county analysis to assess the spread of COVID-19 -- yellow, orange, red and purple. Seven counties were designated as red counties -- Huron, Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Montgomey and Trumbull. The governor said the red designation indictaes there is a "very high risk of exposure and spread" in those counties.
Even before DeWine's announcement, a number of Ohio cities had made masks mandatory, including Columbus and Dayton.
Richland County was designated as orange, one step below the level making masks mandatory. Knox, Ashland and Crawford counties were ranked as yellow, the lowest of the four tiers in the system. The ranking system will be updated weekly on Thursdays, the governor said, based on criteria established to measure how quickly the virus is spreading and its impact on the local health care system.
"In addition to social distancing and reducing unnecessary interactions with others, we know that wearing a mask helps protect others in the community. It has been, and remains, a very strong recommendation that I urge all Ohioans to continue doing even if you are not in a red-alert county," DeWine said. "In red-alert and purple-alert counties, however, we must do more to help protect citizens because the risk of spread is increasing even more."
Theaker and three members of City Council, responding to an email from Richland Source a few days ago, said they didn't think masks needed to become mandatory in Mansfield at this point.
"Larger cities’ COVID-19 numbers are spiking. Our numbers in Mansfield have not," Theaker said. "At the present time, I am urging people to continue being responsible by social distancing and wearing masks to retail establishments, but not requiring it.
"We will continue to monitor this situation and I will address the issue if and when it is necessary."
Council President Cliff Mears agreed with the mayor.
"My thought at this time is that it should not be made a requirement within the City of Mansfield to wear a mask," Mears said. "I don't feel it would be appropriate to expect our police officers to enforce such a law, which I would expect would fine individuals not in compliance. I feel at this time if a resident feels at risk or is part of the target population, it would be best for them to restrict their activities and wear a mask when out in public for their own protection. I believe it's too far-reaching at this time to be fining Mansfield residents for not wearing a face mask."
Sixth Ward Council representative Jean Taddie said Richland County has not seen the spike in COVID-19 cases experienced in other areas.
"I would like to see more residents following the recommendations that already exist about social distancing and wearing masks, so we can better protect our families and community while remaining open for business," Taddie said.
Laura Burns, who represents the city's 1st Ward, said she didn't think Mansfield "is in a place where we need to mandate masks right now."
"When I am out and about I see a fair number of people wearing a face covering and I have the confidence that our residents will be good neighbors and be mindful of keeping their distance and being considerate of those they come in contact with. I personally, wear a mask when I am out around town as I work outside of Mansfield and am often in contact with a number of people throughout my day," Burns said.
No other council members responded to the email question regarding masks.
As of Tuesday, DeWine said, no counties have reached Purple Alert Level 4, though Franklin County is approaching the purple level.
In announcing the system, DeWine said each level is calculated based on seven, data-driven health indicators. Under his facial covering announcement Tuesday, DeWine said people in the seven red counties must wear a facial covering:
-- In any indoor location that is not a residence;
-- When outdoors and unable to consistently maintain a distance of six feet or more from individuals who are not members of their household; or
-- While waiting for, riding, driving, or operating public transportation, a taxi, a private car service, or a ride-sharing vehicle.
He said the order does not apply to children under the age of 10 or any other minor who cannot safely wear a face covering. He also said the order reflects the mask guidance in place for employees and businesses which does not require a person to wear a mask if their physician advises against it, if wearing a mask is prohibited by federal regulation, if communicating with the hearing impaired, when alone in an office or personal workspace, and other similar measures.
Any county that increases to Red Alert Level 3 will automatically be included in the face-covering mandate. Any county that decreases from Red Alert Level 3 to Orange Alert Level 2 will automatically be released from the face-covering requirement.
The state health department announced Tuesday there are 58,904 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Ohio and 2,970 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. A total of 8,383 people have been hospitalized, including 2,101 admissions to intensive care units. The state also reported 41,438 people who got the virus have recovered.
According to the state's Coronavirus website, numbers announced Tuesday in terms of new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and ICU usage were all above the 21-day average as tracked by the Ohio Dept. of Health.
The website, updated Tuesday at 2 p.m., showed Richland County has had 347 positive tests with 51 hospitalizations and five deaths. The website said 266 of those testing positive are presumed to have recovered.