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There's no public mask mandate, but some small businesses still require them. We talk to one

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The blaCk Coffee Lounge at 9th and Elm downtown has required face masks for customers since the beginning of the pandemic.

Some local businesses are requiring face masks again amid the pandemic's worst surge of COVID-19 yet.

Means Cameron is owner of the blaCk Coffee Lounge, just one block from Cincinnati City Hall. He's been requiring masks from the beginning and says most customers have been grateful, telling staff it makes them feel safer.

"But I think for that small period when everyone was lifting it, and we weren't, there were a few customers that were a little upset because people were just ready to go back to normal," Cameron said. "It wasn't that they were really mad about the mask."

Cameron says he thinks public officials should make it mandatory to wear masks in public again.

"I think as long as we're dealing with COVID as a community the way that we have been, I think mandating the masks is an extra layer of protection for everyone," he said.

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval hasn't ruled out that possibility, but says for now businesses are free to make that decision.

"I urge private businesses to use their discretion to require masks, to all of our citizens of Cincinnati to wear a mask when they're out amongst other people who are not in their family pod, to again work together to stop the spread," Pureval said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Pureval joined Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb to ask state officials for more resources like tests, PPE and staff. On Wednesday Pureval announced a mask mandate for city workers and all visitors to city facilities.

He hasn't ruled out the possibility of a renewed public mask mandate, saying he'll continue to consult with public health experts.

Cameron says his small business is still recovering from the shutdown in 2020.

"We're hoping that we're not going to be shut down," Cameron said. "And wearing a mask — every little bit counts. So we were hoping to do our part to keep that from happening."

Hamilton County commissioners declared a state of emergency this week, citing the recent surge.

The CDC recommends everyone wear a mask in public in areas with the highest level of virus spread. That currently applies to the entire Tri-State, and all but a handful of counties across the country.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A map from the CDC showing the level of COVID-19 transmission by county (as of January 12, 2022)