WARREN — Since Gov. Mike DeWine issued a statewide mask mandate, Trumbull County Combined Health District has been inundated with complaints.
Between July 23 and Aug. 5, the district received 142 calls alleging local businesses aren’t following the rules. Multiple businesses received more than one complaint — though officials admit some complaints are hard to validate or are even unfounded.
Here are the businesses that have received the most complaints:
- Top Notch Diner, 682 S. High St. — six complaints
- Walmart, 2016 Millennium Blvd. — four complaints
- Sheetz, 2721 Salt Springs Road — three complaints
- Handyman Hardware, 2200 N. Bellwood Ave. — three complaints
- Aptiv, 126 N. River Road — three complaints
- Gulf Kinsman, 8065 State Route 7 — three complaints.
Below is a list of all complaints about state mask mandate violations made to the Trumbull County Combined Health District as of Aug. 5. Click here to view a full-size version:
Source: Trumbull County Combined Health District
Callers alleged customers at both Sheetz and Walmart were not wearing masks. Calls like those will prompt a visit from a sanitarian, said Kris Wilster, Trumbull health district's director of Environment Health. Sanitarians ensure stores have informative signage and masks for customers without one, but technically, they're not required to confront customers.
"If, by some chance, we run into somebody that doesn't have a mask, we just talk to them, basically try to explain to them," said Wilster.
In response to the complaints, both Sheetz and Walmart referred Mahoning Matters to their corporate media offices.
The complaints about Top Notch DIner, Gulf Gas Station and Handyman Hardware centered on employees not wearing masks. Wilster confirmed the Gulf Gas Station has acquired an exemption for its employees.
Kevin Stredney, who manages Handyman Hardware, said several employees have medical exemptions. He has been in contact with the health department and has the exemptions posted in the store.
The manager at Top Notch Diner was not available both times we called, and the manager of the Gulf Gas Station did not wish to comment.
Multiple callers complained about Aptiv, an electronic parts supplier. Two callers alleged the facility was not properly disinfected after an employee contracted COVID-19. Another caller said there was no sanitizer or hand soap at the facility, and bathrooms were closed.
Mahoning Matters called Aptiv twice; no one answered the phone.
Local health department employees like Wilster are hamstrung. They're tasked with enforcing a largely toothless mandate while themselves wielding essentially no enforcement power — unless they get law enforcement involved.
“I mean, it’s a tricky thing, just to be completely honest with you,” said Wilster. “And it’s frustrating as well.”
Meanwhile, many of the complaints can't be validated by staff.
“But yeah, believe me, there’s times we go out to these places and they’re fine,” said Wilster. “A lot of these [complaints] are unfounded.”
The staff is small, and people are also busy doing their regular jobs in addition to their pandemic duties. Only two weeks into the mandate, departments like Trumbull's are already behind.
“The more that come in, basically the further and further we get behind. I mean, there’s only so many hours in a day. There’s only so many people. We’re stretching on maybe two weeks now.