UNIONTOWN, Ohio (WJW)– A Stark County judge on Wednesday ordered Lake Varsity Diner to comply with state health orders that require restaurant employees to wear face coverings.
The Stark County Health Department took legal action against the business after it did not comply with the mask requirement, despite complaints to the department that resulted in several citations.
Employees at the diner were not wearing face coverings Thursday. Co-owner Joe Beasley said it was “business as usual” because he and his attorney had not yet received or reviewed a copy of the court order.
Beasley argued that masks interfere with employees’ ability to hear customer orders, which he said could potentially lead to a mix up that could sicken someone who has food allergies. His attempts to qualify for an exemption from the Stark County Department of Health were denied.
“I told our employees it was their call. I preferred they didn’t (wear masks) for the communication and safety policy we established,” he said, referring to a business policy he created after reopening in July, requesting employees refrain from wearing masks.
Beasley said the business follows social distancing guidelines, but he doesn’t believe the science indicating masks reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“I think they just want us all to be a bunch of sheep,” he said. “I think this is not about Lake Varsity Diner. This is about America. This is called freedom.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, masks reduce the spray of respiratory droplets that can contain COVID-19, and, “Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking” to reduce the spread of the virus.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, so these simple measures that are put out are to help curb the spread of COVID-19,” Stark County Health Department Director of Environmental Health Paul DePasquale said.
DePasquale said the department investigated Lake Varsity Diner after receiving 11 complaints. It issued its first written violation in October and then issued a noncompliance order in November. He said the department had “no choice” but to take legal action after diner employees refused to comply with the mask requirement.
On Wednesday, Judge Natalie Haupt ordered the diner to comply with and enforce health orders, including the face covering requirement. Her written order states, “Failure to comply with the facial covering requirement constitutes a public health nuisance.”
The court also found no merit in Beasley’s claim that the Ohio’s health order regarding restaurants is unconstitutional.
“The Dine Safe Ohio Order provides clear and fair warning of what conduct is proscribed or prohibited. Moreover, it clearly relates to public health and safety,” Haupt wrote.
DePasquale said most businesses in the county are following state regulations, and the diner is the only business the Stark County Health Department has taken legal action against.
“We’re happy that the judge agreed with our position,” he said. “We’re hoping that the facility complies with the judge’s order.”
Beasley said he could not comment on next steps until he reads the court order, including whether the diner will comply.