12 Ohio counties are under an order by Gov. Mike DeWine to wear masks in indoor spaces and outdoors in areas where social distancing isn’t possible. That order is meant to reduce coronavirus rates in areas of the state where the virus is raging out of control. But the mask mandate is being met with mixed reactions.
Some Ohioans wouldn’t think about not wearing a mask in public. Christa Overton of Cincinnati is one of them.
“So for me, it’s just a no-brainer. It’s only a short period of time then we will have a vaccine and get through the flu season. I mean I don’t like wearing a mask but I do because I think it’s safer for me, my family and other people I come in contact with," Overton says.
Drew Silverthorn of New Philadelphia wears his religiously too.
“I also care for my Mom who has COPD so we just try to take extra precautions to keep everybody safe," Silverthorn says.
Drew’s wife, Kelli, has also made masks for others. Still, Kelli says wearing, or not wearing, a mask can be reason for judgment.
“In our community, because so many people don’t wear them, it’s actually a way for people to bully you," she says.
Darlene Inscho of Delaware says she gets the disdain too. She says she doesn’t wear a mask because doing so gives her panic attacks.
“If I even think about putting on a mask, I can feel my heart rate go up and after about 15 seconds in a mask, I’m almost hyperventilating. And after about a minute and a half in a mask, I see spots and I can’t wear anything across my face. There are lots and lots of us who panic when something is covering our faces or our mouths and even talking about it, I just can’t wear one," Inscho explains.
Some Ohioans say they won’t wear masks because they’re concerned about breathing in too much carbon dioxide. That concern is refuted by medical professionals, who wear masks for hours at a time; by mainstream health organizations; and by former Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, who resigned but remains on staff as an advisor to Gov. Mike DeWine.
“When we are out and about, going to the store, wearing this can make a difference in us spreading those respiratory droplets to other people," Acton says.
But masks have also become a political statement for many. President Trump was reluctant to wear masks but did for the first time this weekend. And up to this point, some Republicans in the Ohio Legislature haven’t been wearing them either.
Representative Candice Keller (R-Middletown) took to her Facebook page to openly defy the mask mandate in Butler County. Keller praised the sheriff and county health department for refusing to enforce it.
“I appreciate leadership that understands the power of the people. Let me remind you that in the state of Ohio, our constitution takes precedent over the Ohio Revised code," Keller says.
Republican Rep. Nino Vitale from nearby Urbana got national scrutiny for a Facebook post saying he wouldn’t wear a mask and said others shouldn’t either because face coverings hide people’s faces and that’s a problem for him because humans are made in the image of God. He also recently posted a message urging constituents to stop getting tested. Vitale has clasted DeWine and former Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, calling her a “dictator.”
Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford), who has said he doesn’t own a mask, says he can’t enforce a mandate on other elected lawmakers.
“I can’t keep them away from here. I can’t require them to have their temperature taken. I can’t require them to wear a mask. I can’t even require them not to sit in their chairs. If the members want to sit in their chairs and cast their votes, there’s nothing I can do about that," Householder says.
Columbus enacted a mask mandate before the state did. Attorney General Dave Yost says the city’s requirement wasn’t enforceable on state lawmakers. A spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine’s office says he respects different branches of government have different rules, but that DeWine hopes lawmakers will join workers in agencies under the executive branch’s control and wear masks.
And medical experts say they’ll likely continue to recommend masks for a year or more…until a vaccine or a treatment for the novel coronavirus is widely available.