At the entrance to the Lowe’s in a central Ohio strip mall, a bright blue-and-white sign tells customers that, under local ordinances, they must wear a face covering inside. Next door, at Hale’s Ales & Kitchen, a sign asks customers to please be patient with a staff shortage — with no mention of masks.
The city line between Columbus and suburban Hilliard crosses right through the strip mall, Mill Run Square. In Columbus, where the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store lies, the city council early in the coronavirus pandemic created a mask requirement that remains in place. In Hilliard, where Hales is located, the city council has not imposed a mask rule, despite entreaties from the top county health official as coronavirus cases spiked.
Under a new law in Ohio — one of at least 19 states this year that have restricted state or local authorities from safeguarding public health amid the coronavirus pandemic — Franklin County’s health commissioner Joe Mazzola can no longer intervene. The county health department was stripped of its power to compel people to wear masks even as the omicron variant fuels a fifth coronavirus surge in the United States.
“We’ve not been able to put in place the policy that would protect our community,” Mazzola said.
The number of states that have passed laws similar to Ohio’s is proliferating fast, from eight identified in one study in May to more than double that many as of last month, according to an analysis by Temple University’s Center for Public Health Law Research. And around the country, many more measures are being debated or being prepared for legislative sessions to start early in the new year.
Click here to read more.