Cincinnati joined other Ohio cities, including Columbus and Dayton, in requiring masks inside public spaces after Cincinnati City Council passed an ordinance at a special meeting Friday.
“We’re not here trying to take anyone’s rights away,” Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore said Friday. “It’s about balancing. I don’t want to see any more deaths. 65 is too many.”
Under the law people will need to wear masks when:
• Inside businesses as well as entering, exiting or waiting in line for businesses like grocery stores and restaurants and city buildings.
• Riding public transportation, including the streetcar and ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.
Violators could face a $25 fine.
People will not be required to wear masks outdoors, though city officials made it clear they still encourage social distancing.
The ordinance passed seven to two, with councilmembers Jeff Pastor and Betsy Sundermann voting against the ordinance. Pastor said he was concerned about racial disparities in the way the ordinance could be enforced and wanted more creative solutions like more mask distribution in public spaces. Sundermann did not offer a reason for her ‘no’ vote.
Authored by Councilman Greg Landsman, the ordinance was first debated in a committee meeting Friday, where members tweaked parts of it.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman expressed concern about starting the new policy on July 7 and proposed moving the implementation date to July 9.
This would give people and small businesses time to adjust to the new policy, he said.
Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld disagreed.
“A lot can happen in two days,” Sittenfeld said.
The start date was moved to July 9.
Smitherman was also concerned about enforcement of the ordinance, saying he wants to avoid forcing police officers to unnecessarily confront citizens.
“I can’t imagine in an enclosed restaurant to have a police officer walk up with their firearm to say I’m not wearing my mask,” he said.
The goal is to have people call the health department to address violators and not the police, councilmembers said.
“Compliance is the goal,” Landsman said. “We do not want this to be punitive.”
Council decided to add language to say that “proper city officials” and specifically, the Board of Health and its employees, are “authorized to do all things necessary and proper” to carry out the ordinance and requiring the Board of Health to regularly update the council on its response.
The Health Department will have the authority to issue tickets to people not in compliance. The penalty for not wearing a mask is a $25 civil fine.
The ordinance passed the Budget and Finance Committee with updated language in a six-to-one vote.
Mayor John Cranley began the full special council meeting thanking council for debating the ordinance. Cranley said he wanted council to create legislation so that the city would be on stronger footing from a legal standpoint.
“We’re likely to be sued,” he said. “Our chances of defending ourselves are stronger if council passes the ordinance.”
After Pastor voiced his concerns, Council debated the time period for the ordinance, eventually deciding that it will be in effect for as long as the Declaration of Emergency Cranley issued June 29 is in effect.
Council then passed the ordinance.
The vote comes as COVID-19 cases are rising in Hamilton County and southwest Ohio and as other cities, including Dayton, have taken similar steps.