WSAZ Investigates | Businesses offer incentives to follow mask ordinance

Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 6:07 PM EDT
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PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (WSAZ) - On Monday, Portsmouth joined several other Ohio cities like Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland where mask ordinances have passed.

“This was required because of the indecisiveness and hesitation of Governor DeWine,” said Sean Dunne, a city councilman who voted yes.

The measure was voted on in an emergency fashion and passed by a 4-1 vote. Some members of the public were upset because there wasn’t an opportunity for public comment. Under an emergency, the effort could be introduced and voted on at the same meeting, instead of taking several weeks to allow for a vote.

“We don’t have six weeks,” Dunne said. “School starts in a month. We want to keep low numbers here. We’re hoping the mask mandate will allow us to do that.

He says he knew there was no way to make everyone happy with the decision, but believes quick action was necessary.

“I don’t think we want to wait until a lot of people die from it. I don’t think we’re going to want to wait until we have to shut down businesses again. We want to keep people coming into Portsmouth. This is a safe place to come.”

The meeting was closed to the public due to COVID-19 but was streamed online.

“For me, masks are the middle ground,” Dunne said.

“You have one extreme saying hide in the basement,” Dunne said. “You have another extreme saying ‘it’s OK, we can all get sick.' In the middle is, if we all wear a mask, we can continue to be sociable and continue going to restaurants, continue supporting businesses. We’re trying to protect people and keep the economy going.”

People took to social media to voice frustration, concerns, and even support for the measure. Others are trying to remain neutral on the matter.

“I can understand why people feel like it’s their duty or something to tell someone else to wear a mask. I think a lot of people are afraid. We are all afraid as news broke that a worldwide pandemic was happening. Just get out in the sunshine. Be considerate.”

Nick Sherman

“You can’t put down people’s feelings and how they feel about the situation,” said Noah Colley. “We have to be accommodating to everyone’s perspective and have some semblance of normalcy.”

Scioto County was moved to a level three public health emergency on Thursday, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The county has seen 47 new cases reported in the last two weeks, which is more than 50 percent of the county’s total cases since the start of the pandemic. Since June 23, the average daily number of new cases increased from one to more than four as of July 9.

“Wearing a mask is simple,” Dunne said. “We ask that you wear a shirt and shoes when you go to a restaurant, now you can wear a mask. It’s really not that problematic. When you sit down, you can take the mask off, you can take a drink or eat your food.”

A few business owners are taking the measure in stride, opting to offer discounts and incentives to those who wear masks.

“I picture parents gathering three or four kids up, putting their masks on and bringing them to a restaurant,” said business owner Tim Wolfe. “At some point, you’ll say, ‘this is too much work, I’m just staying home.‘ ”

He says most businesses are operating at a level that isn’t sustainable. Wolfe owns Patties & Pints in Portsmouth. Those who come to the establishment wearing masks will be eligible for half off appetizers and 50 percent off beer flights. Kids will also eat free with the purchase of dinner.

“I mean, we just kind of lean into it,” Wolfe said. “It’s either bury your head in the sand and hope this doesn’t exist and just goes away and wait for our leadership to shut us down. Or do something and have as much fun with it as we possibly can and reward those customers who are coming out and supporting us right now.”

Wolfe says they’ve been working hard at a reduced capacity to continue serving customers and keep staff employed.

“It’s hand-in-hand,” Wolfe said. “You work with the employees day in and day out. You grow to love them. The last thing you want to see is them unemployed. They need a job. They need an income. I have a lot of great people that work here that help me do that.”

While Gov. Mike DeWine has yet to enact a statewide face-covering mandate or announce any new limitations or restrictions, many residents want to prevent another shutdown.

“I’m surprised at how many people don’t take it that serious and I’m afraid that might be the reason for this threat of a second lockdown,” Wolfe said.

The red alert level in Scioto County indicates that residents will have to wear a mask:

  • In any indoor location that is not a residence;
  • When outdoors and unable to consistently maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from people who are not members of their household; or
  • While waiting for, riding, driving, or operating public transportation, a taxi, a private car service, or a ride-sharing vehicle.

Dunne says places like the Scioto Ribber, Portsmouth Brewery, Lofts Coffee, and Patties & Pints are not only fun places to go, but they’re working hard to clean, sanitize, social distance and keep the community safe. He wants to encourage people to come out and visit.

“We’re also going to see an expansion of outdoor dining in Portsmouth,” Dunne said. “We’re designating an outdoor refreshment area, which will allow for the consumption of alcohol outside in a specific area. So both the city and local businesses are working together to accommodate those needs.”

Many stores have posted signs in their windows explaining the ordinance and reminding people to wear a mask.

Hey friends with school approaching lets do our part to build a healthier and stronger community! #maskupportsmouth

Posted by Lofts Coffee Company & Roastery on Tuesday, July 14, 2020

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