BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s been about a week since Ohio’s statewide mask mandate went into effect in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. Friday, WKBN checked in with the local health departments to see if they’ve been dealing with any violations.
According to Kris Wilster, the director of environmental health for Trumbull County, they have received 89 calls reporting mask violations in the county.
Laura Fauss, the public information officer for the Columbiana County Health Department, said they have received 40 reports of violations through phone calls, Facebook and email.
In Trumbull County, most of the calls are from individuals calling about customers, employees, owners and businesses not enforcing the mask mandate. Wilster added that every once in awhile, they get a complaint about a lack of cleanliness.
Fauss said they have an extension dedicated to mask violation calls. Anytime they get a call about a violation, they send it to the extension, which is then sent to a voicemail and dealt with by someone on the enforcement team.
“We’ve tried to focus on businesses and again, just like we had before, education of businesses is a big thing,” Fauss said, “I know the state just came out with some signs that businesses can use to post on their doors.”
Neither health department has the ability to cite someone; that is left up to the local law enforcement.
“I don’t, by statute, have the authority to fine anybody or charge anybody with a misdemeanor or cite anybody,” Wilster said. “Mostly what we do is try to implore the importance of wearing the mask and try to explain to people the governor’s orders and how they affect the slowing of the virus.”
Trumbull County Sheriff Paul Monroe told First News earlier this month that it’s not his department’s job to respond to mask violation calls and asked the public to please not inundate the emergency line with those calls.
Instead, Wilster and four inspectors do this through phone calls.
Fauss said they haven’t gotten to the point in which they need to utilize citation enforcement, but they are working on getting funding to set up a system with the police.
“We are working with our local law enforcement, and we’re hopeful that they’re going to have a grant through the state for this enforcement to pay for some of that, and we can contract out with the law enforcement as well,” Fauss said.
Thursday, Cuyahoga County recommended that schools begin the year with remote learning to reduce the spread of the virus and discontinue extracurricular activities.
Wilster said they have talked to superintendents and said the role of the health department is to help interpret the guidance documents from the Ohio Department of Health.
“We are not in a position to tell the schools what to do or how to do it,” he said. “Basically, we provide some kind of outlet for them to ask questions, and we try to get the answers if they have questions.”
It’s similar in Columbiana County. Fauss said the county departments work well together so their health commissioner and epidemiologist have been working with nurses and superintendents for the last few weeks.
“Just like the pandemic has been, it’s super fluid,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen at any one time so we have to be prepared for all scenarios.”
When it comes to masking, Wilster said it is important for people to remember there are exceptions.
“It’s not always when you see someone not wearing a mask they’re just being obstinate,” Wilster said. “They may have a real medical reason not to do it, and I think that’s important for people to understand.”
Fauss mentioned Dr. Amy Acton’s reference to each layer –- wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands -– being like Swiss Cheese as something the health department is trying to do with schools.
“Try to wear your mask, if you can’t wear your mask, then stay back from somebody,” Fauss said. “Don’t forget to wash your hands, wear a face shield if you need to, any of those things, and the more of them the better, help reduce your risk.”
Those with concerns can contact the Columbiana County General Health District at 330-424-0272 or the Trumbull County Health Department at 330-675-2489.
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