In making facial coverings recommended rather than required, the governor puts undue pressure on businesses to safeguard public health

Gov. Mike DeWine has exhibited exemplary leadership throughout the COVID-19 crisis. It has been refreshing to have a politician so clearly care about all of their constituents, and to surround themselves with experts whose knowledge has been the foundation of the state’s approach to battling this monster. I might disagree with DeWine on many core issues, but I believe his actions regarding the virus are driven by a genuine concern for public health rather than political calculations. It is precisely through this approach that DeWine has earned international recognition.

With that in mind, I hope the governor will take to heart this constituent's words regarding his recent reversal on the mask mandate. I have spent my entire career in retail. My first job was in a card shop at age 15. I started my first business, a wholesale accessories company, at 22. And for the past 13-plus years I’ve owned retail stores in the city, including Tigertree and Cub Shrub.

Having been on the retail floors as an employee, manager and owner for almost 25 years, a big portion of my heart and my advocacy belongs to retail workers.

Retail workers, and in particular grocery store workers, are currently risking their lives to ensure that our basic needs are met and that we’re maintaining enough of a pulse to have an economy to revive at all. The absolute least we can do for these people is to ensure they have a safe working environment. Masks are the simplest and most effective means to that end, not only minimizing the chances for direct transmission, but magnifying our enhanced sanitation efforts, as the surfaces we are cleaning will be less contaminated.

I wish this regulation did not need to exist, but unfortunately there are some who will not protect the public interest absent legal enforcement. Often the risk these individuals pose is spread relatively evenly within society, but in this instance the risk falls largely on retail and service industry workers. I believe that people who are “offended” by the idea of wearing a mask are not taking the threat of this pandemic seriously. They are precisely why we need a mandate.

Asking individual retail companies to devise their own policies to manage customer behavior is not sustainable. When smoking in restaurants and bars was banned by the state, it was done so because we knew that leaving the decision up to individual businesses was not conducive to the overall public health. This is magnitudes worse. One breath of secondhand smoke (an airborne virus, in this instance) could mean serious illness or death.

Independent retailers, which have already been stretched fighting for economic survival the past two months, simply do not have the bandwidth to be both lawmaker and enforcer. With a mask mandate in place, the number of uncooperative patrons that retailers have to confront should be limited. Without one, DeWine is leaving the most responsible citizens unsure of their own safety while shopping, meaning many will simply abstain. It also gives the most irresponsible customers room to endanger me, my employees, our families and hundreds of thousands of people like us across the state.

DeWine said in his press conference that the mask mandate was a product of discussions with the medical community and his business council. These are the voices he should be listening to rather than the loud few who might be offended at the idea of being asked to do the bare minimum to protect their fellow citizens.

On behalf of the retail workers of this state, as well as what I believe to be a great majority of the owners, I would ask DeWine to reconsider the mask mandate. The economic consequences of not doing so could be dire. I, for one, will not reopen until I feel it is safe to do so, and this reversal very much flies in the face of that. I believe in myself enough to know I can lose my business and start over, and I would happily do so to safeguard my life and the lives of my employees and fellow citizens. And I’m certain that there are many like me.

For those reasons and more, I would ask DeWine to reconsider this course of action and give weight to those most impacted instead of those most offended.