The city's top medical officer thinks it may be time to reinstate an indoor mask mandate in Cincinnati. But the new mayor is noncommittal on the idea.
“I’ll be led by our public health experts," Mayor Aftab Pureval said at a question-and-answer session after his swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday.
The event was moved outside to Washington Park because of the current surge in COVID-19 infections. In addition, those attending had to give proof of vaccination or a negative test result. Everyone, including Pureval, wore a mask.
“I am open to whatever public health professionals say are best practices," the mayor said.
“We will continue to assess and reassess,” he continued, adding "obviously omicron is skyrocketing.”
The question was triggered by an interview given by Dr. Grant Mussman, medical director for the Cincinnati Health Department, to WVXU-FM.
"I realize that public officials right now are picking and choosing their battles, and this has become a big battle," Mussman said in the interview. "But in terms of things that you can do that are effective, there's not a lot that's a lot better than masking."
Mussman didn't return phone calls Tuesday from The Enquirer. The office of his boss, Health Commissioner Melba Moore, directed a reporter to Mussman for any comment.
Mussman has been the city's top doctor since December 2020. He also helps direct the city's nine health centers and five dental centers, which serve 50,000 people – or 1 of every 6 Cincinnatians.
The city had a mask mandate imposed by an ordinance starting in July 2020, but it expired along with an emergency order in Cincinnati.
Local health officials have had their hands tied when it comes to issuing mask mandates after the statewide mandate ended in June 2021 and a new law took effect prohibiting them from issuing such sweeping health orders.
But mask mandates were reimposed in several Ohio communities during the fall, not by the boards of health but by other elected officials. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther reinstated a mandate for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, with an executive order.
Columbus took the executive order route because the state's ban on sweeping health orders only restricted public health agencies from issuing such orders, not city governments. The Ohio Constitution's "home rule" powers granted to cities and villages include the authority to make regulations for public health and safety.
Officials in Athens, Gambier and Yellow Springs enacted mask mandates under the same logic during the rise of the delta variant as did Columbus suburbs Bexley and Whitehall. The Columbus mandate does not apply in state, federal or religious buildings, according to AARP.
Eight states – California, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington – require most people to wear masks indoors, according to AARP.
Staff writer Terry DeMio and The Enquirer's archives contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: COVID-19 surge: Is it time to reimpose a mask mandate in Cincinnati?