I-Team: Thousands of mask complaints reported in Cuyahoga County, but enforcement remains scarce

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CUYAHOGA COUNTY (WJW) — The FOX 8 I-Team has found thousands more complaints coming in to a Cuyahoga County hotline about people not wearing a mask. But we also found you should not expect much enforcement of the governor’s order for wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Complaints keep coming in to the county hotline with people calling out neighbors, store clerks, and co-workers for not wearing a mask.

And in just days, a ocunty website has attracted 20,000 hits where people can check to see where complaints have been made.

So, we investigated enforcement, and we went to County Executive Armond Budish.

He told us the county has been sending out letters alerting businesses someone complained about them.

“We’ve sent out, I believe, about 2000 letters, so far,” Budish said.

But with a governor’s order to wear a mask, we asked why is the county only sending letters? What about the people making complaints expecting to see some enforcement action?

“It’s never been our goal to go out and cite people,” Budish responded. “And the citation, right now, is a criminal misdemeanor under the state’s mask rules. And, we’re not interested in putting people in jail.”

Budish added the health department is swamped dealing with new cases and trying to trace back cases to find out how COVID-19 has spread.

The county has said enforcement is up to each city, and the county is telling each town about complaints there.

But we checked around, and Euclid and Lakewood have not done mask enforcement.

Euclid Police, in fact, have been handing out masks as opposed to writing tickets for not wearing masks.

And, Lakewood town leaders are working to create new rules and regulations there concerning enforcement.

Parma Police, meantime, are only following up when there’s also criminal conduct.

In a statement, Parma Safety Director Tom Weinrich said, “The governor’s office has indicated that enforcement rests with local health departments. The Parma Police Department responds to calls from the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and local businesses when a serious issue arises, such as disorderly conduct, assault or other criminal conduct. We encourage the public to follow the order. The mask order was not designed to criminalize conduct but to help keep the public safe.”

The I-Team also found Cleveland Police getting a few complaints a day. And, we took a look at what happens when patrol officers get sent to check out those calls. Records show, in about a third of those calls, police end up speaking to someone and reminding them about rules for wearing a mask.

Most of the time, police don’t find anyone violating the mask rule, or a citizen calls back to cancel the complaint, or everything checks out OK.

We have also requested records showing what action, if any, the Cleveland Health Department has taken

More complaint calls are piling up, and more of you want to know who’s breaking the mask rules. But don’t expect many of those folks to answer for it in court.

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