As the number of COVID-19 cases increases in Cuyahoga County, Lakewood officials have begun working to make sure state mask and distancing guidelines are enforced in their city.

City Council began discussing an ordinance that would give the city’s safety services broader authority in enforcing newly mandated pandemic guidelines that require masks to be worn at all times. Introduced by Mayor Meghan George, the measure was expected to pass July 20 on first reading.

“This law provides more direction and clarity in what residents can expect in Lakewood,” said Councilman Jason Schachner, who co-sponsored the bill with Councilwoman Sarah Kepple and Councilman Tristan Rader, noting that the law would last until the state was no longer in a Level 3 or 4 alert category. The county was at Level 3 with 919 new cases as of July 20. Lakewood has between 172 and 255 cases, according to information provided by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.

The law gives authorities more enforcement ability when handling residents and businesses that do not follow the guidelines. Firefighters and police officers will be able to issue civil citations. The first one will be a warning and each citation after will include a $50 penalty that will increase with each new citation.

Specifically, safety forces will be able to monitor three areas where masks are mandated, including outdoor areas where a 6-foot distance cannot be kept, any indoor area that’s not a residence and public transportation. Businesses will also be required to reduce their indoor occupancy by 50% and could lead to an increased amount of outdoor dining for businesses eligible to apply, Schachner said.

There are a few exceptions to the mask law. They include children younger than 10, people dining and attending athletic practices.

In recent weeks, businesses like the city’s food truck park have come under scrutiny for not enforcing social-distancing guidelines. Photos on social media depict a packed business with people socializing and not wearing masks. While co-owner Dan Deagan understands the community’s concerns, he is confident the park is doing everything possible to keep staff and customers safe. He's working with the city to make sure that happens.

“The perception from the street can be different from the inside,” he said. “We’re doing everything that’s required by the state.”

City officials have received a large number of complaints about businesses not following safety guidelines. Despite the new ordinance, George knows that the city’s safety services will not always be able to enforce the law on their own.

“The food truck park, as well as other businesses we’ve received complaints about, will have to follow state guidelines or face the consequences,” she said. “Unfortunately, we can’t keep an officer or member from the board of health at these places all the time, so part of the responsibility still falls on the business owners to follow Gov. Mike DeWine’s orders.”

Contact this reporter at akamczyc@westlifenews.com or 216-307-6614.

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