Customers will be required to wear face coverings at indoor businesses in Bexley through July 31.

Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler signed an executive order on June 29 that went into effect July 3 to enforce the wearing of face masks at indoor businesses, which is intended to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, he said.

Bexley City Council voted 5-1 during a June 26 special meeting to express approval for Kessler to issue an executive order enforcing the wearing of face masks at indoor businesses.

Council President Lori Ann Feibel and members Matt Klingler, Troy Markham, Jen Robinson and Jessica Saad voted in favor of Kessler’s executive order. Council member Richard Sharp cast the dissenting vote. Feibel said council member Monique Lampke had to leave the meeting before the votes were cast due to a prior commitment.

Kessler said the executive order arose from a June 25 discussion between members of the Bexley COVID-19 Task Force about whether a strong recommendation or a requirement encourages more people to wear face coverings in public to stop the spread of coronavirus. The majority of the health officials on the task force said a requirement would be more effective than the city’s current policy of encouraging face coverings, he said.

“This is an order designed to get large-scale compliance,” Kessler said. “If we can get 80% of our residents wearing face masks in these settings, that will have a dramatic difference within our own community and if everybody did that everywhere, we would indeed see a huge change in the pandemic.”

Bexley City Attorney Marc Fishel said that although Gov. Mike DeWine had not enacted a statewide requirement for face coverings as of June 29, Bexley had the jurisdiction to do so.

“There are provisions in our codified ordinances that allow the mayor to do this,” Fishel said.

According to Kessler’s executive order, employees and customers would be required to wear face masks in Bexley at these locations:

• Restaurants and bars, unless seated at a table.

• Cinemas and theaters, unless seated and consuming refreshments.

• Office spaces that are open to the public.

• Personal-care and grooming businesses, unless receiving a facial treatment, shave or other services on another part of the head that would normally be covered by a face covering.

The executive order provides exceptions for those who have a medical condition or disability; customers who are actively eating or drinking, strenuously exercising or giving a speech for broadcast or an audience; those securing government or medical services that require identification; children under 2 years of age, and children over the age of 2 whose parent or guardian has been unable to place a covering on the child’s face.

“You don’t have to prove any of this,” Kessler said. “You just have to say, ‘These are my reasons.’ ”

The executive order said face coverings “may be factorymade, sewn by hand, or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, bandannas, T-shirts, sweatshirts or towels.”

The executive order is to be enforced by the city’s code- enforcement officer, who would follow up reports filed by people who contact the city about potential violations, Kessler said.

The officer must observe someone not wearing a mask and first will issue a verbal warning and then a written warning on a second violation.

After the second violation, cases would be investigated by the Bexley Police Department and referred to mayor’s court as a first-degree misdemeanor, with a maximum of $1,000 and 180 days in jail if convicted, city spokesman Sam Metcalf said.

Sharp said he opposes the executive order on the grounds it is unnecessary. He said he has observed that most patrons at local businesses already wear masks.

“I think we’re trying to ‘virtual signal’ here, and it just adds to the impression that Bexley is kind of elitist and think we know better than everybody else,” Sharp said.

“The visitors on Main Street aren’t from Bexley, and they’re the ones who are going to be punished. We’re trying not to show a bias against our nonresidents. I don’t see why we need it at this point,” he said.

Robinson said Kessler’s executive order would make a statement that the city’s ultimate goal is a safe reopening.

During the meeting, health professionals explained why they support requiring customers to wear face masks while patronizing indoor businesses

Franklin County Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola said requiring customers to wear masks while patronizing indoor businesses sends a message that public health is Bexley’s top priority.

“From Franklin County Public Health’s perspective, we could not support this more strongly,” Mazzola said. “We think that this is the right thing to do. We hope other cities in our county will follow and we stand ready to partner with the city to help promote it, to help provide technical assistance or any kind of engagement with your businesses or your residents within the city of Bexley.”

Of the two Bexley residents who spoke during the meeting, held virtually via Zoom, one said he favored the mask-wearing requirement and the other was opposed.

Remington Road resident Daniel Hurley said he supports requiring masks at local businesses.

“I think this is great the city is doing this,” he said.

Another Remington Road resident, Solomon Derrow, said he is a physician and sees no need for the mask requirement.

“We are arguing that now it’s necessary to switch from a suggestion to a requirement, even though our hospitalization numbers are, frankly, negligible,” he said.

According to Bexley’s COVID-19 Task Force, as of June 25, there were 40 confirmed cases of Bexley residents who had been diagnosed with coronavirus, including four active cases.

For more information, visit bexley.org/coronavirus.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews