Warren County votes for a no-mask requirement in county-owned buildings

The Warren County commissioners have approved a resolution to make wearing masks in county owned and operated building optional starting June 1. The county has notified Gov. Mike DeWine's office and the Ohio Department of Health to provide scientific facts on why the mask mandate should continue before that date.  STAFF PHOTO
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The Warren County commissioners have approved a resolution to make wearing masks in county owned and operated building optional starting June 1. The county has notified Gov. Mike DeWine's office and the Ohio Department of Health to provide scientific facts on why the mask mandate should continue before that date. STAFF PHOTO

Warren County commissioners have adopted a resolution that will not require the wearing of facial coverings in buildings and facilities owned and operated by the county starting June 1.

Commission President David Young said that COVID-19 restrictions should be lifted as quickly as they were implemented.

“This creates a policy that the use of face coverings inside county owned and operated buildings is voluntary,” Young said. “I can’t tell people to do something if I don’t believe in it.”

Young has been sharing his opinion that the state mask mandate should be lifted as more people are vaccinated.

“Why do we wear masks if we are fully vaccinated?” he asked. “There’s no scientific data to back that up and it doesn’t make sense.”

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Young noted the county has provided funding for masks and that anyone can get a COVID-19 vaccination any time by walking in to a health department clinic. He said as of May 10, 45.57% of all Warren County residents have had at least their first vaccination, and more than 81% of Warren County residents ages 65 and older have been vaccinated. In addition, hospitalizations and ICU beds used for COVID-19 patients have been trending downward, Young said.

The resolution which said it is unreasonable to believe that a state of emergency can go on indefinitely, was approved by a 2-1 vote with Commissioner Shannon Jones casting the lone no vote.

Jones said her position had not changed: the county commission does not have the authority to issue such a resolution and that the Ohio General Assembly has already approved a law to override health orders. She also expressed concerns about employees and families getting the coronavirus.

“We should follow the law,” she said.

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Assistant Prosecutor Bruce McGary, who is the commissioner’s legal adviser, said he advised there was a public health order issued April 9 by the Ohio Department of Health regarding facial coverings which had exceptions. McGary told the commissioners that in his view, ”they were required to follow it.”

The resolution notes that the county commission has acknowledged the seriousness of the virus and continually meets with county the health commissioner to stay updated on the coronavirus.

In addition, the resolution provides elected officials, boards, commissions and tenants can set their own policies for mask usage in those occupied county-owned and operated buildings and facilities. In addition, the county-owned buildings will have masks at building entrances for people to wear if they are uncomfortable.

Young said the county, not the state, owns more than 1 million square feet of property and with ownership comes rights and responsibilities. When asked about the county having the authority to adopt the resolution, Young said, “I’ll let a judge decide that.

“Facts have changed (since this state health orders were implemented),” he said. I’m reluctant to mandate something I don’t believe in.”

The commissioners’ resolution also created a public comment period June 1, 2021. It requires the county administrator to send a letter and a copy of the resolution to both Gov. Mike DeWine and to Ohio Department of Health Director, Stephanie McCloud, giving notice of the public comment period and requesting that they provide the commissioners with specific and scientific evidence prior to June 1 that support why the resolution should not take effect.

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State law requires students to wear masks in and outside during school functions. Exemptions can be granted for health or religious reasons, eating and drinking, or participating in sports, among other reasons.

Last week, the Blanchester Board of Education voted to relax the mask mandates in its district by immediately allowing students and staff to remove their masks outdoors and on buses with a window open. On June 1, the district will also allow students and staff to remove masks indoors.

In recent weeks, residents in other counties have been urging their county commissions to lift mask mandates.

In Butler County, a group of residents led by former state Rep. Candice Keller demanded the commissioners take stand on the state’s mask order and declare the county a “sanctuary” for those who choose to disobey mandates.

Keller said the commissioner were in violation of state law because the mask mandates and quarantine orders were unconstitutional because the governor and health director issued them and not the legislature.

“As far as the commissioners go, we have no legislative authority, zero,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “That’s not my opinion, that’s the opinion I have in front of me from the Butler County prosecutor.”