On July 23rd, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine imposed a statewide mask mandate, which requires all people age ten and over to wear masks in public spaces. After the Ohio economy reopened in May, the number of COVID-19 cases in Ohio spiked—especially in large cities like Cleveland and Columbus. The mandate is intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus in public spaces while avoiding another shutdown.
However, the mask mandate is confusing to many people, and comes with many exceptions and special provisions. What does the mask mandate mean for you—as an employee, a customer, and a member of the public? At Tittle & Perlmuter, we researched the answers to some of the most common questions about the mask mandate.
Do I have to wear a mask outdoors? Yes, but only if you are unable to maintain a six-foot distance from other people. This means that masks are required at outdoor events that attract large crowds, such as the Cleveland Zoo’s Asian Lantern Festival.
I have a disability that makes it difficult to wear a mask. Am I required to wear one? No. According to the Governor’s office, “those with a medical condition or a disability or those communicating with someone with a disability” are exempt from Ohio’s mask mandate.
Do I have to wear a mask at the gym? What about when I am seated at a restaurant? This is where it gets tricky. Patrons of gyms and restaurants are required to wear masks in the lobby and while moving about the restaurant—such as to use the restroom. But people who are actively exercising at a gym, or eating or drinking at a restaurant, do not have to wear a mask.
Are there any other exemptions? People “actively involved in public safety,” as well as people officiating a religious service, do not have to wear a mask. Children under ten years of age are also exempt from the mandate.
I went to a store and some of the other customers were not wearing masks. I told the staff, but they did nothing. What should I do? If you believe a business is violating the mask mandate or basic social distancing protocols, you can report it to the Health Department in your county or the Ohio Department of Health. Also, make sure to share your concerns with a store manager or other decision-maker at the business.
“Ideally, they should begin by making sure that the real decision-makers are aware of the problem, orally and in writing,” Scott Perlmuter, an attorney at Tittle & Perlmuter, says. “If that doesn’t resolve the situation, cities, counties, and the state all have health departments with jurisdiction over these issues.”
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, is the business required to alert the public? “This answer will likely turn on legislation that’s pending in the Ohio General Assembly regarding immunity for COVID-related claims,” Perlmuter says. “However, as it currently stands, a business has an obligation to take reasonable steps to protect the safety of customers on the premises. So, a business could incur significant liability for failing to take adequate precautions, including potentially notifying customers depending on the circumstances, after an employee tests positive for COVID.”
Are mask mandates unconstitutional? This is a point of contentious debate in courthouses across America. Here in Ohio, businesses have sued the government for restrictions and penalties intended to stop the spread of coronavirus. The lawsuits claim the restrictions are vague, and enforcement is arbitrary. But in general, most legal scholars and judges agree that mask mandates are constitutional.
While mask mandates might limit freedom of expression as guaranteed by the First Amendment, the government is constitutionally permitted to restrict liberties during a major public health crisis. In these circumstances, the goal of protecting the public from a pandemic illness outweighs an individual’s right to ignore the mask mandate.
“In the general run of situations where these mask orders are in effect now, they don’t present any constitutional problem,” Richard Seamon, a Constitutional Law professor at the University of Idaho, said in an interview. “This is a situation where the government interest in having these mask orders is really the strongest.”