Richland County Courthouse

Richland County Courthouse

MANSFIELD -- Richland County elected officials expressed frustration and disappointment Thursday with the state's frequently changing requirements as it begins to re-open an economy shuttered by COVID-19.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday announced plans to allow some forms of business to restart, provided those companies meet safety requirements during the pandemic.

Local officials, during a conference call with Richland County commissioners, had the most questions and comments about DeWine's policies concerning masks, which has changed twice since it was announced three days ago.

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Included were several questions about where the facial coverings -- masks or face shields -- for employees can be obtained, how quickly they can be procured and how closely offices will be monitored for compliance.

Rules regarding office environments take effect Monday.

Richland Public Health Commissioner Sarah Humphrey said -- as of Thursday -- employers will be required to have employees wear facial coverings while in the workplace. The state recommends customers wear masks, as well, but it is not mandatory for them, she said.

Auditor Pat Dropsey quickly responded, expressing frustration with the changing rules and requirements since the governor initially issued a stay-at-home order more than a month ago.

"If the state is going to require something (from local government), they need to make it available. To require us to do it for our employees (at this stage) is dumb and we don't have the ability to do it," Dropsey said.

"County government offices were declared essential by the state. We have not been working with masks for the past six weeks because it has not been a requirement," Dropsey said.

"Now that the state is opening up, there is a requirement for masks. The state is contradicting itself. From a logical point of view, if (the state) is going to require masks (for workers), it's something they should have been thinking about for weeks," he said.

"It makes no sense," Dropsey said. "I know this not your (Humphrey's) doing, but I keep getting mixed signals from the state and that bothers me. How can I keep my employees safe when the state keeps changing what it requires?"

As part of his "Responsible RestartOhio" plan, DeWine has said general office environments, manufacturing, distribution, and construction businesses may reopen Monday, "if these businesses can meet mandatory safety requirements for customers and employees."

Beginning 12, consumer, retail and services business can re-open, providing they also meet safety requirements. Other forms of business, like restaurants, bars, salons and fitness centers, remain closed.

Humphrey said offices that have been able to have employees work remotely should continue to do so.

Those that are or do open will have to require masks for employees, practice social distancing of six feet and also require frequent cleaning and disinfecting of work spaces, Humphrey said.

"It is true that guidance has been given, pulled back and spit out again," she said, adding businesses can require customers to require facial coverings, but will also have to supply masks if they require them.

Richland County Clerk of Courts Linda Frary and Recorder Sarah Davis were also among those asking questions about the availability of masks, the types of facial coverings required, and also the need for them in an office setting that utilizes cubicles or modules.

Humphrey said someone working in an isolated office would not need a mask while working, but would need to put one on when they move into a common area, such as around an office copier.

She said office workers in cubicles/modules would need them if those "walls" don't extend to the ceiling.

Richland County Commissioner Tony Vero said each office should do the best it can to comply, but said commissioners will "use their best judgment" in meeting state mandates.

Sherry Branham, associate director of Richland County Mental Health & Recovery Services, said she was concerned about liability issues if a county office doesn't fully comply with the mandates, a concerned shared by county Prosecutor Gary Bishop and Commissioner Darrell Banks.

Branham suggested county leaders should err on the side of caution.

Commissioner Marilyn John pointed out the state's requirements have changed and will likely change again.

"The state legislature has outlined its own plan and they are back in session next week. To think all three branches of government are on the same page ... it doesn't appear they are," John said.

"I am not holding my breath that this isn't going to change tomorrow or next week. We are spending a lot of time on the local level to make plans that are changed the next week," she said.

Humphrey agreed it's a fluid situation. She pointed out how earlier this week she met with local school superintendents to tell them there could be no graduation ceremonies, based upon state guidance. That had changed by the next day, forcing her to circle back with school leaders.

"I don't know how much weight to put on (current rules)," she said. "It could change by 2 p.m. today. It's hard at the local level to react to any of this, let alone preempt what could happen."

John said Richland County has a liaison with DeWine's office and that comments and questions should be directed to Lizzy Goodwin at 330-312-0315.

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"