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Ohio COVID Health Orders Are Over, But Some Won't Drop Masks

Ohio will no longer require people to wear masks inside most establishments. Some people with compromised immune systems, however, may still choose to wear them. [Chansom Pantip / Shutterstock]
Ohio will no longer require people to wear masks inside most establishments. Some people with compromised immune systems, however, may still choose to wear them. [Chansom Pantip / Shutterstock]

The majority of Ohio’s pandemic-related health orders, including the statewide mask mandate, are now over.

Signs of the pandemic winding down can already be seen throughout the Cleveland area.

Progressive Field will now be open at full capacity without mask requirements – although this won’t be seen until the next home game because Wednesday’s game was postponed due to the weather.

Both the Cuyahoga County and Geauga County public library systems will no longer require vaccinated guests to wear masks and have re-opened congregate meeting spaces. In addition, the Cuyahoga County libraries will no longer quarantine returned materials.

The Greater Cleveland YMCAs are now open at full capacity, and while they ask unvaccinated individuals to continue wearing masks, they will operate on the “honor system” and not require them.

Cleveland area residents no longer have to wear masks inside most places, but health care facilities, nursing homes, schools, mass transit, and businesses can still require them if they desire.

Many local restaurants and businesses are still asking unvaccinated individuals to wear masks. However, most businesses have no plan in place to check whether unmasked customers are vaccinated.

This has some people with weakened immune systems, such as individuals with cancer or HIV, feeling anxious about the lifting of the mask mandates.

Lakewood resident Robert Toth is living with HIV and has a compromised immune system, and he hopes some businesses will continue to require masks.

“Personally, I’d feel safer if they all do that,” Toth said. “I’ve seen signs that say, ‘if you’re vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask.’ Well, people lie. We know that. And the honor system doesn’t work.” 

Toth is fully vaccinated, but the vaccine may not be as effective due to his weakened immune system, he said. For that reason, he will continue to wear masks in public and practice social distancing.

“I feel a little bit anxious,” Toth said. “I’m not going to let that affect me because that lowers your immune system, so it’s kind of counter-productive to worry.”

Toth uses public transportation, where masks are still required, but he has seen people not wear them with no repercussions, he added.

“I just don’t sit near those individuals, or I’ll socially distance from those individuals,” he said.

In a Wednesday press conference, state health officials encouraged immunocompromised individuals like Toth to continue wearing masks even though orders have lifted.

Toth plans to continue wearing masks until more people are vaccinated, he said. He also thinks the orders were lifted too soon, because more than half of the state’s population is unvaccinated, he said.

He is also concerned about variant strains of COVID-19, which are more easily spread and may evade vaccine antibodies, he added.

More than 5.3 million Ohioans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines, about 45 percent of the state’s population.

State officials also addressed another vulnerable group: young children. Kids aged 11 and under are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, so they should still wear masks, said Dr. Patty Manning-Courtney of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“When they are out in crowds, out in public, out in stores, out at events, they should be masked, and we are of the belief that parents and family members should mask along with them. It’s just the only way to protect that population," she said.

The guidance, which has changed frequently throughout the pandemic, can be confusing and overwhelming for children, said Cleveland Clinic psychologist Susan Albers.

“I think it’s really important to clearly communicate with your children this change in the expectations and rules, and reassure them that you are going to continue to prioritize their safety and make them feel safe,” Albers said.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.