As COVID-19 continues to take center stage in the United States, debates rage on regarding the merits of wearing masks as an impactful measure to slow the spread of the virus. With an increasing number of city governments around the state voting to implement their own mask mandates, Delaware City Council weighed the possibility during Monday’s meeting before ultimately deciding against moving forward with legislation on a mandate.
Prior to council’s discussion, a large number of letters, submitted by members of the community and containing a wide variety of opinions on the merits of masks, were read to council members and the public in attendance. In addition to the letters, some members of the public stated their opinions as part of the live stream.
Following public participation, Delaware General Health District Commissioner Sheila Hiddleson addressed some of the comments stated by the public and advocated for the general use of masks in public.
“We do know that masks can reduce the spray of the (infected) droplets,” Hiddleson said, adding that wearing them is as much about those who are especially susceptible to illnesses as it is the individual wearing the mask. She went on to say masks are another barrier between people, with social distancing providing an additional barrier.
“There certainly are a lot of arguments to be made for and against masks, but we do know that the more barriers we can put up between us, the better we’re all going to be,” Hiddleson said.
Councilman Cory Hoffman questioned the incentives for the City of Delaware to implement its own mask mandate when Governor Mike DeWine will likely do so himself if and when the indicators associated with his Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System suggest the need. Hiddleson, addressing Hoffman’s question, said Delaware County currently has three of those indicators, and a fourth would mean the county jumps from its current Level Two Public Emergency status to a Level Three status of high exposure and spread.
“I really firmly believe that masks do help,” Hiddleson said. “Are they the perfect solution? No. There is no perfect solution unless we could put N95 (masks) on every single person, and we know that’s not practical … I’m very concerned that if you all do decide to make a mandate, what does that enforcement look like? We all know that laws and rules without some sort of enforcement don’t necessarily do anything other than sending a message that this is important and that you all believe this is important.”
Hiddleson said she understands that the Delaware Police Department has enough on their plates already, and she doesn’t want them to have to become the “mask police” in trying to enforce a city mandate.
Hoffman said one of his chief concerns is the possibility of a second lock down, and he asked Hiddleson about that possibility drawing nearer. She said DeWine certainly has that capability “in his toolbox,” and he will force the mask mandate himself if the county indicators increase.
“I think anything we can do to prevent us from getting to that next level is important for all of our citizens to do … If we can wear a mask, if it doesn’t hurt us medically, I guess I feel like it doesn’t do us any harm to wear the mask. But it could do a lot of harm if we’re able to (wear the mask) and we don’t.”
Mayor Carolyn Riggle questioned how long a mask mandate would or should last, at what point the City gives the go-ahead to remove the mandate, and the message they would be sending by removing the mandate.
“I think, as leaders, I think we should do the right thing,” Riggle said of wearing masks in public. Vice Mayor Kent Shafer added that from what he has observed, it appears there has been a large increase in voluntary compliance with wearing masks from the general public.
“Our first duties as government is to protect the fundamental rights of our citizens,” Councilwoman Lisa Keller said. “The authority to issue a mandate isn’t something we should ever take lightly … Any decision to ever mandate any of the free-will of our citizens should always be a decision of last resort. We should truly have no other options.
“The number of cases does seem to be increasing, and the cumulative graphs do look scary. But 678 cases in all of Delaware County is 32/100 of 1% of the entire population in Delaware County … In all of Delaware city, we’re responsible for 90 cumulative cases, and right now, we’re responsible for 12 active cases. We’re the county seat and the most populous city, and we have 13% of the total county cases, 5% of the active cases in all of Delaware County.”
Keller said that given those numbers and how many people aren’t sick, a mask mandate would be an overreach. In closing, she said the decision of whether or not to wear a mask belongs in the hands of the individual community members and businesses, not the government.
“I propose to you the options we have in place are working,” she said. “They’re doing their job. We have four people in the entire county in the hospital, and we wish them very well and the best of health, but we don’t need to overreact. We need to use the data to help keep perspective.”
Shafer said he will continue to encourage people to wear masks, but in terms of issuing a city-wide mandate, he didn’t feel qualified to override the state health department’s decisions and the system they have in place. He added that he would be unsure if there would be much more compliance than there already is, even if a mandate was issued.
With only two council members suggesting they would be in favor of a mandate, there will be no further discussion on drafting legislation. To hear the entire conversation, visit the City of Delaware’s Facebook page to access the live stream of Monday’s meeting.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.