Are face coverings required if you walk into a store, work as a grocery clerk or return to an office job when Ohio rolls back some of its stay-at-home requirements next week?
Business owners, workers and shoppers across the state are continuing to try to unmask the answers.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine caused confusion this week when he initially said all businesses must require mask use in the workplace and for shoppers returning to stores the state begins to slowly reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. But then Tuesday, he initially backed off the requirements before walking back his comments later that evening.
During Wednesday’s daily briefing, Lt. Gov Jon Husted said face masks are required for employees in the workplace. He gave a few exceptions such as if the job has a regulation prohibiting the use of a face mask, if it is as against documented best practices, if it is not advisable for health purposes or if an employee is sitting alone in an enclosed work space.
Customers of businesses should wear a face mask, but it’s not required, state officials said, adding that businesses can require customers to wear a mask for service.
"It’s out of mutual respect for one another" to wear the mask, Husted said. "This is a virus you can carry and you don’t know."
Husted said mask use will also help curb the spread of the virus to help the state get to later stages of opening other businesses.
The new state order about masks had not yet been posted as of Wednesday, but Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said she is assuming it will place enforcement on local public health departments, similar to earlier essential business orders.
"Many of these businesses we have already had conversations with and so we know them," she said.
Skoda said her agency will mostly be educating businesses about mask use and not trying to close companies down. This is similar to what her agency did during the first round when they were checking on complaints about essential businesses, she said.
"We want businesses to be open and successful... But we want them to be safe as well," she said.
Complaints about businesses can be made to the health department at 330-926-5795 or at www.scph.org/covid-19.
"We’ll get complaints on both sides of the fence -- employees who don’t have a mask on and employees who don’t want to wear a mask. That’s kind of how it went with business complaints. They were mad because they were open and mad because they had to close."
Acme Fresh Markets began mandating its 2,400 employees wear masks on Wednesday -- and provided their employees with homemade masks made by a local company.
The Akron-based grocer partnered with downtown Akron manufacturer American Made Bags LLC to provide locally made fabric masks.
"I think that’s what local really means – Acme’s ability to work with and support local businesses to fulfill need – whether it’s partnering with a local farmer or, in these unusual times, working with a local manufacturer," said Katie Swartz, Acme vice president of Marketing.
In late March, Acme began purchasing bandanas to make fabric masks for its employees. When it came time to convert those into fabric masks, it found a fellow member of the United Food & Commercial Workers in American Made Bags LLC.
"We were thrilled at the opportunity to take in a very large order during these uncertain times. The opportunity was even sweeter because we are able to help a fellow UFCW member," company representative Edith Davis said.
Each employee initially has been given two fabric masks, sSwartz said. The grocer has 5,000 masks and American Made is continuing to make masks until further notice.
Acme customers will not be required, but encouraged to wear masks when shopping, Swartz said.
"Our associates are wearing masks to help protect our customers. We encourage our customers to wear masks to help protect our associates," she said.
The governor’s changing stance on the mask issue has been challenging for labor-relations attorneys who are trying to advise their clients.
Steve Bond, an attorney with the Akron-based Brouse McDowell, said he talked to a client Tuesday but got an email from her Wednesday morning that said she was reading something different on the state’s website.
"That’s the problem," said Bond, whose firm has offices in Northern Ohio from Toledo to Youngstown and represents small, medium and large companies. "We can only tell them what we’re seeing … Time is running out for businesses trying to start opening on Monday."
Bond thinks the state will likely be hoping for voluntary compliance from companies. If the health department gets a complaint about a business not complying, the department likely will talk to this company about what they need to do.
Bond said DeWine thinks businesses likely will want to require that customers wear masks so that patron will feel safe frequenting the business.
Places that require masks to be worn could provide them to people who don’t have them, though the state hasn’t required this step, Bond said.
The Summit County Courthouse is one of the places that will provide masks if someone visiting doesn’t have one, said Amy Corrigall Jones, the administrative judge.
Jones issued an order Wednesday that extended many of the same restrictions the court currently has in place through May 29. The order also requires that those entering the courthouse wear a mask and have their temperatures checked. No one exhibiting symptoms or with a temperature of 100.4 or above will be permitted to enter.
Jones said the court’s priority is to "protect members of the public, while balancing our obligation to serve our community in our judicial system."
Staff writer Stephanie Warsmith contributed to this report. Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.beaconjournal.com/topics/linfisher