Butler County begins mask mandate as officials warn of caution

Butler County General Health District Commissioner Jennifer Bailer said she understands “masks are controversial,” but they’re the most efficient way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine declared Butler County one of the seven in the state classified as a red-alert area, requiring all residents to wear protective masks in public as of 6 p.m. Wednesday to slow the recent local spike in coronavirus cases.

RELATED: Masks to be required in public throughout Butler County: What to know

Bailer said Butler County set a one-day record last week when 45 residents tested positive for coronavirus. She said none of them has died but that her office has received reports that hospitalizations are on the rise.

From June 17 to June 29, the number of visits to the emergency room for coronavirus-related illnesses in the county jumped from two per day to seven per day, according to the Ohio Department of Health. There also was a sharp increase in the number of doctor visits for coronavirus illnesses from June 9 to June 23. The average daily visits went from 10 to 25, according to the ODH.

Then on Wednesday, Butler County leaders held a press conference to announce that 150,000 free masks will be available to Butler residents in the near future at local fire departments and businesses.

They said the day, time and location of the mask distribution will be made later this week.

Cindy Carpenter, Butler County commissioner, said that “navigating this challenging time has been the top priority and the focus of our communities and leaders for the last several months.” The goal, she said, is to “preserve and protect” public health while keeping businesses “vibrant and thriving.”

Butler County will be one of seven Ohio counties – including Hamilton and Montgomery counties in southwest Ohio — designated for the mandatory mask order for those out in public and unable to maintain social distancing from others.

Face masks must also be worn while waiting for and using public transportation, as well as taxis, ride-sharing vehicles or a private care service, Bailer said.

Right after DeWine announced the mandate, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said “we are not the mask police,” and added he will not order his deputies to enforce DeWine’s orders. Police officials in Middletown and Fairfield echoed similar sentiments.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Ohio passes 60,000 total cases reported during pandemic

On Wednesday, several Butler County residents were split on whether the wearing of masks should be mandatory.

Whitney Fellman, 22, walking her dog in downtown Hamilton, said she worries about the health of her 94-year-old great-grandmother. She called wearing a mask “a small price to pay” to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Vernon Burge, 60, of Hamilton, agreed. He said covering your nose and mouth with a masks “a wise move” because “the danger is still there.”

But two women sitting outside the Butler County Courthouse said regardless of what DeWine says, they aren’t wearing masks. While Sara Chartrand said she knows the COVID-19 is “real” because her mother tested positive in January, she refuses to comply with the governor’s mandate.

“It’s crap that they’re taking away our rights,” she said.

Mary Smith, 79, of Middletown, said she was waiting for a relative to get out of court.

“I’m tired of the government telling everybody what to do,” Smith said. “I’m not wearing one. Period.”

She said she believe COVID-19 is “just a bad case of pneumonia.”

Middletown Schools officials announced shortly after DeWine’s directive they were cancelling a planned series of outdoor high school graduation ceremonies tonight at Barnitz Stadium. At least two graduating seniors protested the decision Wednesday afternoon outside district offices.

Senior Lauryn Grindle, wearing a purple mask, called graduating “a 12-year mark of accomplishment” and without graduating you’re “not an adult.”

About the Author