An Ohio county health department is apologizing after receiving backlash over its mask guidance, which told minorities not to wear face coverings with "gang symbolism" and to avoid wearing a scarf tied around their heads because it could indicate "unsavory behavior."
The department's recommendations on the types of face coverings African Americans and people of color should avoid was issued after a black resident said in a now-viral tweet that he did not feel safe wearing a "handkerchief or something else that isn’t CLEARLY a protective mask" because of his race.
"I want to stay alive but I also want to stay alive," Aaron Thomas wrote on April 4.
The tweet led to outlets including NBC News, the Miami Herald and The New York Times reporting on how black men fear that face coverings that don't look like a mask could lead to racial profiling and harassment from police.
"FCPH wants to ensure that all individuals feel safe and can protect themselves from the COVID-19 when out in public by wearing a face mask," the health department said in its document titled "COVID-19 General Guidance on Wearing Face Mask for African Americans and Communities of Color."
The guidance said minorities should "avoid fabrics that elicit deeply held stereotypes," such as bandanas, skull prints and horror prints.
"When utilizing a homemade mask, avoid bandanas that are red or blue, as these are typically associated with gang symbolism," the document states, adding, "When choosing fabrics to make homemade masks, try to purchase bright or decorative fabrics."
The department also said that homemade masks should either loop around the ear or have strings that tie around the head.
"It is not recommended to wear a scarf just simply tied around the head as this can indicate unsavory behavior, although not intended," the document states.
The guidance led to some backlash on social media. One Twitter user deemed the department's recommendations as racist. " They’re really suggesting that POC take responsibility and make careful mask choices during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC to avoid being lynched," Alissa Smith wrote.
In its response, Franklin County Public Health said it will use "the voice of the public to inform any new guidance we put out."
"Everyone deserves to feel safe while wearing a face covering and not to be subjected to stigma, bias or discrimination," the department said.