SIDNEY — Ohio’s mandatory mask order, put in place by Gov. Mike DeWine effective Thursday at 6 p.m., will not be enforced by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

The Sidney Police Department and Sidney-Shelby County Health Department, along with the Sheriff’s Office, are waiting for guidance from the governor’s office and Ohio Department of Health about enforcing the mandate.

Sheriff John Lenhart said Thursday morning he had received six phone calls from residents asking him what his department would be doing.

“As I’ve said previously, we are not the mask police,” said Lenhart. “That’s not our job. The enforcement of the order falls the the health department.”

Lenhart stressed his deputies and correction officers wear masks during their shifts every day.

“If we’d start seeing 10 to 12 deaths a month from COVID_19 in Shelby County, I might change my mind,” he said. “But for now, we’re not enforcing the order.”

In one of Lenhart’s weekly columns, he addressed the face mask regulations.

“Our position is we are not going to be mask police,” said Lenhart in May. “I’m counting on Shelby County citizens to make the decision of what’s best for their family.” Lenhart encourages citizens to follow the rules as outlined by the Ohio Department of Health and Gov. Mike DeWine.

“Wear a mask,” said Lenhart. “Keep things clean. Observe the 6 foot social distancing guideline and the number of people in a group.”

No criminal citations will be given by the Sheriff’s Office, Lenhart had said in May.

Also in May, Lenhart compared the COVID-19 pandemic to the snow emergencies in Shelby County.

“We are smart enough to govern ourselves,” said Lenhart, who said during unsafe driving conditions the local residents know to stay off the roads.

“I learned at the police academy you can only police people that want to be policed,” said Lenhart. “Some people are adamant against the restrictions while others are scared to death of the virus.”

Sidney-Shelby County Health Department Health Commissioner Steve Tostrick and Sidney Police Chief Will Balling said they are both waiting for guidance from the state on how the situation should be handled.

“At this time we are still waiting on any direct guidance from the Governor’s Office and the Ohio Department of Health,” said Tostrick. “This order is being issued by them and we have not been informed on any enforcement measures.”

Tostrick, said to his knowledge, the department doesn’t have citation authority for this type of order.

Balling said his office — to his knowledge — hasn’t received any calls inquiring how to report someone not wearing a mask.

“No one knows if this (wearing a mask) can or can’t help,” said Balling “We hope people will wear their masks.”

Balling said he considers this a health department issue and any violations should be made to them.

Local officials uncertain how it will be enforced

By Melanie Speicher

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