The city of Gahanna didn’t have a chance to publish a mayor’s proclamation on mandated facial coverings before Gov. Mike DeWine announced plans to require the same in Franklin County.
Carrin Wester, Gahanna’s communications manager, said the administration was working on its own proclamation July 7 and didn’t know DeWine would announce a countywide mask mandate effective July 8 that applies to all counties designated at Red Alert Level 3 on the virus-rating scale the state has set.
That list currently includes Franklin County.
Those in Level 3 or Purple Alert Level 4 areas are required to wear a face covering:
• In any indoor location that is not a residence.
• When outdoors and unable to consistently maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from individuals who are not members of their household.
• While waiting for, riding, driving or operating public transportation, a taxi, a private car service or a ride-sharing vehicle.
Wester said Gahanna Mayor Laurie Jadwin signed the proclamation July 7, about 30 minutes before DeWine’s press conference, when he announced the Ohio Department of Health’s plan to issue the order to mandate facial coverings in public across all of Franklin County.
“This decision followed a discussion ... by council, and came after gathering and evaluating information from public-health officials and residents,” Jadwin said. “I respect every member of our council and their individual opinions as well as those of our residents, and those opinions vary widely.”
Jadwin said she believed the proclamation she signed is a fair balance between those opinions and seeks to protect and balance public health, community safety and individual liberties.
The entire proclamation can be viewed at tinyurl.com/gahannamasks.
Gahanna City Council member Merisa Bowers brought the issue up for discussion during the July 6 council committee meeting.
She said she believes everyone shares the common goal of expanded reopening of all aspects of the community, including schools, businesses and social and recreational functions.
“One way to achieve this goal is to ensure that our community feels safe and to slow the spread of COVID-19 through the widespread adoption of proven health measures, including frequent hand-washing, physical distancing and face-mask use,” she said. “While the use of a mask is not only considerate but also a proven tool to reduce transmission of COVID-19, unclear mandates that impose criminal penalties create problems with enforcement and criminalization of our friends and neighbors.”
As an attorney, Bowers said, she has seen how penalties, both financial and criminal, disparately impact vulnerable populations, especially burdening low-income and minority groups.
“In any circumstance, I urge the development of protocol to educate and deescalate any situation in which law enforcement is called to enforce a mask mandate,” she said.
Council member Stephen Renner said he joined Bowers when she introduced the same ideas as proposed by the city of Westerville regarding facial coverings.
“I strongly believe that to be a great compromise, as it retains both choice as well as empowers businesses and residents to wear masks or be escorted off their respective premises,” he said.
Council president Jamie Leeseberg said he and his children wear facial coverings. But, he said, it’s something that’s impossible for police to enforce and said he didn’t favor mandating the wearing of masks.
“It isn’t something we can force others to do,” he said.
Council member Karen Angelou said she thinks wearing a mask should be a personal choice.
Jeffrey Spence, Gahanna police chief, said compliance and enforcement is tricky with this issue.
“It deals with public health and public-health compliance,” he said. “As code enforcement, we don’t get involved in health inspections or those type of things. It’s an area we don’t engage in.”
He said the division has received calls about issues such as large gatherings, and he anticipates an increase in these types of calls.
Spence said he doesn’t see the wearing of facial coverings as a policing matter, especially in today’s climate.
Gahanna’s move followed those made in other central Ohio communities, including Bexley, Columbus, Dublin, Hilliard, Upper Arlington, Westerville, Whitehall and Worthington.
As of July 9, Franklin was among the counties in Ohio designated at Red Alert Level 3, indicating people in those counties have a very high risk of exposure and spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to a news release from DeWine’s office.
Jadwin said the state order supersedes and renders moot any order made on the local level, including the emergency proclamation she had signed.
“From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, our residents have shown understanding as we have dealt with the continued unpredictable challenges set before us,” Jadwin said.
“We recognize the governor’s announcement will be met with both positive and negative reactions. We understand your frustrations and share in many of them.”
She said Gahanna would continue to try to make wise decisions that are focused on the health and safety of all residents.