Cincinnati is joining Dayton and Columbus in requiring people to wear facial coverings at indoor establishments to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The full City Council approved the ordinance by a 7-2 vote on July 3. It takes effect July 9.
"That all individuals within the city of Cincinnati shall wear a facial covering over the individual's nose and mouth," the ordinance reads.
There are several exemptions in the ordinance (you can review those in the full ordinance attached below) and there are many acceptable items that can be used for a facial covering, including a cloth mask, medical mask, scarf or bandana.
The city ordinance will carry a $25 civil fine, so it's not a criminal penalty. As the city's health department enforces the measure, it will seek compliance first. A citation will only be issued if someone refuses to wear a mask after being warned.
Council Member Greg Landsman proposed the measure along with Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney. He said data suggests the virus is being spread indoors where people are close together and not wearing masks.
"Let's dramatically increase the number of people wearing masks inside when they are in close proximity to others because that will slow, if not end the virus," Landsman said. "And we can keep our economy open, keep people safe, and let our kids go back to school."
Landsman said the goal is to "pass out way more masks than tickets."
Originally the city's police department was going to be tasked with enforcing the ordinance and issuing citations. That was modified to the health department after concerns raised by Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman.
"I think we could be setting our (police) officers up here to have unnecessary conflicts," Smitherman said. "Putting our police officers at any way on the frontline of this, I think is the possibility of a recipe of disaster."
The city's incoming Interim City Solicitor Andrew Garth said there may still be times when police are needed to assist with enforcement. He mentioned a situation where a business owner possibly encounters an individual who is refusing to wear a mask.
Council Members Jeff Pastor and Betsy Sundermann cast the "no" votes.
Sunderman said there's no point to the ordinance if, as supporters say, it's not meant to be punitive.
"The health department can already go out and hand out masks and intervene and encourage people to wear masks, it sounds like that's what Mr. Landsman wants to happen," Sundermann said. "They can already do that. I also heard Mr. Landsman wants to empower business owners to require masks if they want to in their own businesses; they can already do that."
Pastor said he wants people to wear masks but he doesn't agree with a government mandate to do so. On Twitter he called it "one step too far."
Mayor John Cranley was supportive of the measure, but he also said he expects the city to face a lawsuit because of the ordinance.
People who have concerns about people not wearing masks in the city should contact the city health department at 513-357-7200.
This story was first published July 3 and has been updated.