DeWine to close restaurants and bars; 37 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ohio

Photo from The Ohio Channel

Taking what he called a “drastic” step, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Sunday the closure of all bars and restaurants in Ohio indefinitely except for carry-out and delivery.

The announcement marks the latest salvo in a series of escalating moves from the state to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Ohio. State officials have closed schools for three weeks (though DeWine has indicated plans to extend the closure), sporting events, mass gatherings, nursing home visitation and others.

Officials have detected 37 cases of COVID-19 in the state as of 2 p.m. Sunday. They’ve estimated more than 100,000 Ohioans are infected — a best guess that rises exponentially by the day. At least 350 people are awaiting test results, per state data.

DeWine acknowledged the “suffering” the order will cause for bar and restaurant owners and workers alike. But the pandemic, he said, is a lethal threat to Ohioans. 

“People will die if we do not make these decisions,” he said. “I don’t have any other way of saying it.”

The order allows restaurants and bars to offer carry-out and delivery. It states businesses must “maintain social distancing” of at least six feet in their lines whenever possible.

DeWine announced the business closures, effective at 9:00 p.m. Sunday, at a 3:30 press conference that same afternoon.

While there are only 37 confirmed cases, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said the data is getting increasingly less accurate due to the rapid influx of information and inadequate testing capacity.

“Because of our lack of testing, cases are just the tip of the iceberg,” Acton said.

According to data Acton provided, COVID-19 illnesses in Ohio trace to Feb. 7. Infection can predate symptoms by two to 14 days, according to the CDC. 

Acton has estimated Ohio’s infected population doubles every six days, and that between 40 and 70 percent of Ohioans will be infected without mitigation such as the closures.

On Sunday, Lt. Gov. John Husted also announced an executive order (to be signed Monday) to enable workers without paid leave benefits and people who have been quarantined by a medical professional to access unemployment benefits. It also grants the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services the authority to accept and grant requests for unemployment compensation without the normal one-day waiting period. 

He announced other pieces of relief like a one-time liquor buyback option for businesses who stocked up on booze for St. Patrick’s Day.

State officials announced the first confirmed cases of the disease March 9. Since then, officials in counties all around the state have detected the disease in accelerating fashion.

Acton warned Sunday the worst is yet to come. Eleven Ohioans have been hospitalized to date, but Acton said hospitalizations tend to lag behind initial confirmations.

As more cases are discovered nationally, she warned there are critical shortages of intensive care unit hospital beds and ventilators.

The closures, she said, are a means to “flatten the curve,” or essentially slow down transmission of the virus so as not to overburden the health care system.

By slowing transmission rates, officials hope to spread the health care burden out over time. 

“This is the real thing,” Acton said. “This is not a drill, this is a once in a lifetime pandemic.”

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce commended the governor’s latest order in a statement Sunday, characterizing it as a tough but necessary decision to frustrate the virus’ spread.

Prior to the formal announcement, House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, urged DeWine to restrict restaurant patronage instead of closing them outright. Republican Attorney General Dave Yost agreed

Their statements demonstrate some of the first instances of public pushback against DeWine, who has earned bipartisan praise and laudatory national media coverage for his aggressive, proactive approach.