Is A Mask Mandate Enough To Keep Us Safe? Public Health Expert Says No

Gov. Mike DeWine signed an order mandating masks in all 88 counties starting June 23. A local public health expert said she supports the order, but bigger measures are needed - such as closing down non-essential businesses. [The Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]
Gov. Mike DeWine signed an order mandating masks in all 88 counties starting June 23. A local public health expert said she supports the order, but bigger measures are needed - such as closing down non-essential businesses. [The Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]
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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s statewide mask mandate begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, but one local public health expert said it does not go far enough to keep people safe.

Meanwhile, local business owners are also struggling in the current climate, where it’s not clear who will enforce state and local mandates aimed at keeping employees and customers safe. 

Kent State public health professor Tina Bhargava studies mental bandwidth, the brain’s capacity for effective decision-making. The daily stresses from the pandemic make it difficult for people to make rational choices, Bhargava said. Government and health officials could lighten the load for Ohioans by doing a partial shut of targeted businesses, she said.

"If there are non-essential businesses that are open, that are creating opportunities for people to make choices that are the less safe choice, and those are things that could be closed that would lead to a greater chance of moving through the virus with minimum or less damage, those would be areas that I would identify worth shutting down,” Bhargava said.

Because mental bandwidth is already strained, she said individuals should be focusing on things like their health and well-being — rather than whether to put themselves in potentially risky situations, such as going to a bar or amusement park.

“Let’s save the decision for things that are really important," she said. "[Let's] ensure that we have the greatest opportunity long term for us to be successful as a state.”

But there are also potential mental health consequences if people lose their jobs or their business from a partial shutdown, said Case Western Reserve University economist Roman Sheremeta. That would only increase the anxiety and uncertainty people are already feeling during the pandemic, he said.

“It would not only have a direct impact, but it would have an even bigger indirect impact — creating a lot of uncertainties about the future, about changing people’s behavior. So I’m really worried about that," Sheremeta said.

Ohio’s economy could not survive re-closing some select businesses, Sheremeta said. Some businesses are still recovering from being temporarily shuttered during Ohio’s first stay at home order, he said.

“It would be detrimental to the economy that’s already been devastated," he said. "I really hope that the policies that the government is going to implement will be more moderate, but really, lockdown would be the worst decision.”

Businesses have already implemented safety measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Some owners have anxiety over getting shut down again if customers are not following the rules. 

That is heavy on the mind of Jay Demagall, owner of Forest City Brewery in Tremont. Even though Cleveland already had a mask mandate before the governor announced the statewide directive, Demagall was struggling to get customers to follow the rules and decided to close for the time being

“If I turn my back for five minutes and six people congregate and don’t have their masks on, standing around drinking a beer, we could have been in the same boat as some of those other places," Demagall said. "It’s not worth the risk to our business and the health of the employees and the customers.”

Demagall said he is feeling a lot of uncertainty about the future. When the brewery does reopen after it’s deemed safe, he doesn’t want a repeat of what happened last time.

“The state opened… well, now we’re seeing the beginning of the spike," he said. "And if they shut everything back down, and we won’t be able to open anyway, and then things get back down to a level they were before and they open it up and we go through the same scenario, then I’m gonna have to make this decision again.”

It is unrealistic to expect people to make safe choices during this pandemic, said Bhargava at Kent State. That is another reason why not shutting some places down will hurt us in the long run, she said.

“The consequences of that will be that in a couple of months, the virus is going to get to decide what gets shut down and not," she said.

DeWine said in his press conference Wednesday that he resorted to the statewide mask mandate after trying out the local approaches first. After requiring masks in harder-hit counties seemed to slow the acceleration of the spread, he ultimately decided to extend the order to all. 

Facial coverings are required in indoor locations that are not residences, outdoors where six feet of social distancing is not possible, and when using public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares.

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