Health officials keep delivering the same message. To avoid spreading COVID-19, about 80 percent of people must wear masks whenever they come within six feet of anyone else.
But everywhere one looks it seems many people are not wearing masks locally. Officials in some areas of the United States where cases are soaring are now requiring masks in public.
Anecdotal evidence shows that only 15% to 25% of people in the county are wearing masks in indoor public settings, such as in grocery stores and at bars, Summit County Public Health reported Tuesday.
Marlene Martin, department spokeswoman, said the figure was arrived at by looking at complaints made to the agency, as well health inspectors’ observations.
An informal Beacon Journal survey of people entering stores Tuesday found a higher ratio of mask use, although fewer younger people — who have generally resisted using masks in social settings — may have been coming or going on a weekday morning.
Fred Gener, an ICU nurse who was wearing a disposable surgical mask as he walked to his car in the Summit Mall parking lot, estimated about 75 percent of customers inside the mall were wearing a mask.
“It was surprising,” said Gener, holding his two-year-old daughter Sophia. “I was expecting less people wearing masks. I’m just getting so used to seeing people without masks in public.”
Gener, 37, is assigned to a surgical ICU at a Cleveland hospital and sometimes works with COVID-19 patients.
“I need to be considerate to people,” he said, referring to the risk of being an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.
Gener said some of the anti-mask sentiment he hears is from others in the health care industry who like him must wear masks on the job.
“They’re saying the government is trying to control them; they’re losing their freedom,” he said.
Jalal Jwayyed, 21, a Copley resident and University of Akron student, wore a mask his aunt made for him as he walked toward the mall. He’s working as a DoorDash delivery person and was on his way to a mall restaurant to pick up an order.
“I’m wearing [the mask] for the obvious reason I don’t want to be an asymptomatic carrier and give it to older people,” he said. “It’s such a little thing, and it can have such a negative impact if you don’t wear it.”
Scientists say when the vast majority of a population use a mask it significantly decreases the overall spread of the easily transmitted virus.
Increasingly, local public health workers are seeing asymptomatic carriers, said Donna Skoda, Summit County health commissioner. COVID-19 develops in the upper respiratory system, and droplets that can get others sick can be spread by coughing and sneezing.
Skoda said if the spread doesn’t significantly slow down in Ohio, state officials could move to bring back earlier COVID-19 restrictions and decide to keep in place current restrictions on mass gatherings.
But not everyone is convinced masks work.
At the Hawkins Plaza shopping center in West Akron, Jamie Layton was on her way to work out at Planet Fitness.
A health aide, she said she always wears a mask at work. But outside of work is a different story.
“I don’t fear for myself and I keep my social distance,” she said.
The risk of her touching her face is greater with a mask on, she said, referring to warnings about face-touching because the eyes, nose and mouth are pathways for the virus.
“I think the biggest thing is staying away from people,” she said.
At the Stow Community Center shopping plaza, Beth Milan, of Stow, 35, said she doesn’t buy the need for a mask.
A health care professional, Milan said “studies have shown that masks aren’t effective on the coronavirus.”
She didn’t cite a specific study, but one published in April in the Annals of Internal Medicine that said cloth and surgical masks do not effectively contain the virus was later retracted by its authors.
Milan said her choice not to wear a mask was shared by others she knows in the health care industry, and was not political.
“I don’t care what he [the president does],” she said, referring to President Donald Trump’s continued resistance to wearing a mask.
Some women had their masks stashed in purses. When asked about their mask-wearing habits, two men realized they had forgotten their masks and quickly reached into a car to retrieve them.
Cherie Bowman, 70, and her husband, Randy, 72, of Jackson Township, didn’t have masks on as they walked from their car to the mall. They had forgotten their masks and were seeking some air-conditioning after a walk at Seiberling Nature Realm.
The couple planned to walk inside the mall, but not go in any stores.
“We’re taking it [guidance to wear a mask] seriously,” Cherie Bowman said. “We really are.”
Barbara Edmonds, 71, and her son, Demitrius Campbell, 48, both wore masks while waiting at Hawkins Plaza for a cab to take them home.
Edmonds said a small percentage of people inside the R.S.V.P. Food & Party store at Hawkins Plaza were not wearing masks.
“I have a [weakened] immune system. I have to be very careful,” Edmonds said.
“I don’t see the issue,” she said, “It’s a safety thing that helps you and everybody else as well.”
Campbell, her son, said, “It’s sad. We’re trying to keep the virus down instead of going up.”