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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Cincinnati Could Require Masks Indoors In Public Places

coronavirus homemade masks
Kathy Willens
A woman in New York City wears a mask to ride the subway in March. Cincinnati council will consider an ordinance requiring the use of masks to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Cincinnati City Council will meet in a special session Friday to discuss passing a mask ordinance. Mayor John Cranley says it's in response to rising numbers of COVID-19.

"Masks are our best hope to keep the economy afloat and to keep people safe," he says. The mayor spoke at a Thursday morning press conference.

Cranley says council members are drawing up different versions and could approve one Friday. Dayton's city commission passed a mask ordinance Wednesday night. The mayor of Columbus has a press conference Thursday afternoon and is expected to follow suit. Governor Mike DeWine will speak Thursday afternoon as well, and Cranley says the governor is "reasonably likely" to issue a regional masking order.

Cranley says he's looking for something to require indoor use-only, with civil penalties, not criminal ones.

"For me, the details are important, and there's going to be a robust discussion tomorrow, from what I understand. I know there will be some ordinances proposed that will be modeled off the Dayton ordinance."

Dayton's includes a $85 fine.

Cranley says, "I can tell you based on the conversations I've had with City Council members so far is that the ordinances being drafted right now have a lower fine than $85. And that'll be worked out in committee."

He says council members have raised the issue of enforcement and racial impact. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld tweeted on Wednesday that he supports requiring masks, and providing masks to low-income citizens.

"... I support a requirement at the local level, *so long as* it's implemented equitably. Masks should be made available, especially to low-income residents (this cannot be another example of criminalizing poverty) Sittenfeld tweeted.

Mayor Cranley says he's talked with leadership at Kroger, P&G and United Dairy Farmers about making masks more readily available. "Kroger is already making masks available for sale at all their stores nationwide. UDF is going to make masks available for purchase within a couple of weeks," he says. All Kroger stores in Cincinnati will, at the door, give masks to customers who don't have them, starting today, Cranley says. "We hope people will take advantage of that," he says.

Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore says the number of new cases is rising and many of the new patients are young. "We're at 101 cases in one day," she says. "We looked at April. Our numbers were really great in April. Total hospitalization in April was 112.  Under (age) 30 there was one case. Currently 35 hospitalizations (under 30.)"

Moore says contact tracing is revealing where people are contracting the coronavirus. "We had very few, 15 people, who said they were at a large gathering. It's the bars, it's the nightclubs. Malls, baby showers, indoors."

"We're unanimous in agreement that everyone should wear a mask," Cranley says. "That's the best way to keep the economy open, the best way to get schools back open, it's the best way to move forward." 

Council's Budget and Finance Committee meets at 11:30 Friday morning to start the process of passing an ordinance. The full council will meet in special session at 11:45.