ASHLAND — A mask mandate would not be welcomed back to north central Ohio, according to the majority of people who responded to an Ashland Source survey.
On July 28, Richland Source published a survey asking our readers a number of questions about wearing a face mask in public again due to this surge of new COVID-19 cases with the emergence of the Delta variant.
Overwhelmingly, the survey respondents report they are done with wearing masks.
When asked if they would be wearing a mask in public from now on, 918 people (66.9%) said they would not be wearing a mask, while 455 (33.1%) said they would.
From July 28 to Aug. 17, the survey received 1,373 responses. The majority of respondents came from Richland County, followed by Ashland, Knox and Crawford. More than half of the respondents (52.2%) identified as female, while 43.1% identified as male.
The highest number of respondents (382) reported their age as 65 and older; 303 people reported their age between 55 and 64 years; 257 reported their age between 45 and 54; 241 reported between 35 and 44; 152 between 25 and 34; 33 between 18 and 24; and five respondents were under the age of 18.
An overwhelming majority of survey respondents, 86.7%, reported they did not continue wearing a face mask regularly after the state mask mandate was lifted in June.
According to Gov. Mike DeWine in a press conference on Aug. 17, Ohio is reporting its highest number of new COVID-19 cases since February. The state is currently reporting 3,235 cases, or 236 cases per 100,000 people. Every county in the state is considered at "high" community transmission.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending vaccinated Americans wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of "substantial" or "high" community transmission.
There are 1,571 people hospitalized in Ohio with COVID-19, the highest number hospitalized since February. Additionally, there are 464 people in ICUs across Ohio.
So far, studies suggest the current authorized vaccines work on the Delta variant and others. To schedule a vaccine appointment near you, click here for a list of COVID-19 vaccine provider locations.
Of the 1,373 people who responded, 764 offered a voluntary answer to why they would or wouldn't be wearing a mask again. Many noted they wouldn't because they were vaccinated; slightly more than half of Ohio's population reports receiving the vaccine:
For Amber Hedrick, a Richland County resident who said she would not be wearing a face mask again. She is putting her faith in her own immune system rather than a mask. She noted she has had COVID-19 and recovered, and that several of her extended family members are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and "fighting for their life."
"I don’t want to wear masks because I hate them, I just have a different view, and that’s OK," Hedrick said. "If I walk by someone in the store wearing a mask, I understand. That’s their right.
"And if I’m not forcing it on my children, I don’t want to be hated for that, either."
Hedrick said she has two children with special needs who do not tolerate wearing masks because of their needs. She recently made the difficult decision to homeschool because of this.
"I don’t feel like we’ve ever questioned personal choices and shamed people like we do right now. And that's hard," she said. "You're made to feel like a horrible, hateful person. I feel like we’ve lost kindness on both sides of the aisle."
Of the 1,373 respondents, 665 offered a voluntary response explaining why they chose to continue wearing a mask, or not:
Knox County resident Vicki Fitzgerald said she never stopped wearing her mask because she has vulnerable family members, and she didn't want to contribute to the creation of more virus variants.
"I am of the generation that had all of the childhood diseases — mumps, measles, chicken pox. I had all those," Fitzgerald said. "People don’t understand how lucky they are not to have gone through many of those infectious diseases. They have the luxury of being vaccinated."
Fitzgerald said her son is an ER nurse, and he has had to reconcile the incongruence between his own personal experience and what people outside of that environment are saying.
"My heart is just broken for them," she said. "I don’t trust the community at large to have concern about my safety and well-being, so I’ve had to make some pretty significant choices not to interact with some people, because I feel they’re not being safe."
The majority of the survey respondents stated they do not believe face masks are an effective tool in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
Mike Switzer of Richland County said he believes masks actually do more harm than good, and he would not wear one again unless he had to. As of now, another statewide mask mandate is not in the cards for Ohio.
"I grew up on a farm; when an animal gets sick you seclude the animal from the herd, you don’t seclude the herd from everything else. If you’re vulnerable, it makes sense to me that you be the one to limit yourself," he said. "We have to make sure the cure is not worse than the disease."
Switzer said the topic of masking and vaccines has caused a rift between some members of his family, who have to agree to disagree.
"I’ve had it and it did not bother me. I had a fever for one night, lost my taste and smell for a few days and that’s it," he said. "I know it affects people in different ways, it’s devastating to some people, but the science is conflicting depending on who you listen to."
DeWine stated during his Aug. 17 press conference that "we are clearly well past the time when the state can mandate to parents and school districts what actions to take."
When asked what their reaction would be if another statewide mask mandate were to occur in Ohio, 807 people volunteered a response:
Richland County resident Eric Boehm, a high school teacher, said he believed another statewide mask mandate would be unsuccessful because "you can't force people to be decent.
"All of my actions, whether it is wearing a mask or getting vaccinated, are done with concern for other people, not with concern for myself," Boehm said. "So I’m not out at the grocery store wearing a mask because I’m afraid, I’m wearing a mask because I would hate to think I could potentially infect somebody else.
"We’re not all afraid, we’re just trying to be decent to other people," he said. "Why is trying to protect other people where the line is being drawn?"