LIMA — Allen County’s mandatory mask order is now in effect, meaning all residents and visitors are required to wear a face covering while out in public or face the possibility of a misdemeanor.
But that doesn’t mean Lima Police or Allen County Sheriff’s deputies will be patrolling for people caught without a mask on.
Residents concerned about non-compliance with the mask mandate should instead call Allen County Public Health, rather than 9-1-1 or non-emergency dispatch lines.
“We really feel like wearing a mask is a simple step that should not require the threat of enforcement for people to step up and protect each other,” said Tami Gough, director of prevention and health promotion services for Allen County Public Health.
Enforcement will be tricky, as Allen County Public Health’s resources are already stretched as the agency works to trace the contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, an increasingly difficult task as some residents violate their quarantine or isolation orders.
The responsibility has fallen largely on Allen County Public Health’s environmental services division, which typically performs restaurant inspections and is now responding to COVID-19-related complaints from the public. The most common complaints involve employees not wearing masks.
An analysis by The New York Times found that roughly 30% of residents in the Lima area report always wearing a face covering, while another 40% report wearing masks frequently. But mask usage is lower in some of the counties and townships surrounding, the analysis found.
That may change as nearly 60% of Ohio’s population is now required to wear a face covering while out in public.
Still, Gough anticipates some people will not comply.
“We’re going to see the benefits of what we do now in 3-4 weeks, which is about when schools are starting and the fair is supposed to happen,” she said. “The whole alert system is designed to be a warning that you are headed in a bad direction, and if you don’t take the measures now to stop the spread, you might be in a position three to four weeks from now where things do have to be postponed or canceled or alternative plans put into place.”
Closures and cancellations are possible if Allen County moves into a Level 4 Public Health Emergency, the highest level in Ohio’s new alert system.
“I’m very, very fearful that if this thing gets out of control again that the governor will make the decision to close things down, and that’s going to be terrible for our economy,” said Jed Metzger, president and CEO of the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce. “I think our governor is trying to give us a chance.”
Family gatherings, vacations source of new cases
Allen County entered a Level 3 Public Health Emergency on Thursday after reporting 76 new COVID-19 cases in 14 days.
While Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday attributed Allen County’s surge in new cases to an outbreak at a restaurant and workplace, Allen County Public Health has traced most new cases to large family gatherings and travel to other hotspots in the U.S. Per disease reporting guidelines, an outbreak is defined as two or more cases that are related.
Gough said the public will be notified if an outbreak traced to a workplace, event or other public setting is deemed a public health risk.