Mayor Andrew Ginther signed an executive order requiring masks this month, and Columbus City Council passed legislation that added consequences for violators. Franklin County is also under mask mandates from both the County Board of Comissioners and the Ohio Department of Health.
But who is in charge of enforcement?
Columbus' mask ordinance is being enforced by the city public health department, instead of the Columbus Division of Police.
“This has never been about criminalizing, but more about empowering, educating,” Ginther says. “That’s why there’s so much education, warning and engagement taking place with public health, as opposed to law enforcement.”
Between 6-10 people at Columbus Public Health are in charge of following up on mask complaints throughout the city every day. While that may not seem like many, the department says it is enough to keep up with demand.
Mainly, they focus their attention on local businesses, which have steeper consequences than individuals or groups violating mask rules.
Rob Acquista, who's on the supervision team in charge of enforcement, says their first step when encountering businesses violating the order is education. After educating the business about the mask requirements, step two is issuing a warning letter.
“If we issue a warning letter, then we’ll go back out and do a follow up,” Acquista says. “On the follow up, if we still have issues out there, that’s when the fine would kick in of $500 on the first offense, $1,000 on every other offense after that.”
Columbus has received hundreds of mask-related complaints so far, although more than 90% of the businesses investigated were found to be in compliance. Columbus Public Health has issued eight warning letters, but has yet to issue any fines.
For individuals or groups of people that Columbus Public Health investigates, they hand masks out with a warning. A second offense comes with a $25 fine.
Franklin County is currently under a public health emergency level 3, under the state's advisory system, which means there is also a state-imposed mask mandate. If cases drop, that state-issued mask mandate could go away.
Because of the local rules, however, masks would still be required regardless. The same guys for many smaller cities in Franklin County, such as Hilliard and Bexley.
Columbus City Council member Emmanuel Remy says those overlapping authorities can cause confusion.
“I will say, I wish the governor would mandate it statewide, because we have so many municipalities with different rules,” Remy says. “And it's left up to local interpretation, even right here in Central Ohio.”
Ginther agreed, especially in light of the CDC's statement this week that if everyone wore masks, the virus could be under control in the U.S. in a matter of weeks.