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Coronavirus: Governor orders Ohio bars, restaurants to shut down - News - The Columbus Dispatch


Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered bars and restaurants to shut down to slow the spread of coronavirus. Ohio has 37 cases diagnosed so far. The governor also indicated that schools might stay closed through the school year.

Gov. Mike DeWine and the state health director ordered all Ohio bars and restaurants to close by 9 p.m. Sunday.

The announcement, less than six hours before the closure deadline, had restaurants and bars scrambling to plan their next steps.

DeWine said he decided on the shutdown after hearing from people around the state Saturday night who were concerned about crowded bars. He said he was concerned that with St. Patrick’s Day coming up Tuesday, people would ignore warnings and go out to bars.

The governor encouraged restaurants to offer carryout or delivery service, but he said they would not be allowed to have people congregating in the businesses.

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“I can’t tell you how sorry I am,” DeWine said to business owners and worker.

“This is a matter of life and death, and so we’re very mindful of the economic hurt. … This is brutally tough, and my heart goes out to them, but we have to do what we have to do to save their lives,” DeWine said

Lt. Gov Jon Husted said the governor will sign an executive order to provide unemployment benefits for people affected by COVID-19. That will include people who are self-quarantining and those whose employers are closing.

The cost of these additional unemployment benefits will be “neutralized,” Husted said. He said there is “no doubt” that the administration will have to ask the legislature to strengthen Ohio’s unemployment system, but that isn’ required immediately.

Husted said the decision to close bars and restaurants was a hard one. The state did not want people to stop buying food from restaurants and go to grocery stores because that would stress already-depleted stores.

In another form of relief, the state will allow bars and some event planners to return unopened bottles of high-proof liquor to the agencies where they bought them. The decision to allow returns was made because of the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments and bar closures, Husted said.

The Small Business Association, Husted said, is also offering loans to assist businesses. Husted called the state’s actions Sunday “our first step” toward providing relief to businesses.

“We know that what we’re all going through together will have a tremendous economic impact on businesses and the people who work there,“ Husted said.

DeWine on Sunday made comparisons between St. Louis and Philadelphia in 1918 during the outbreak of the Spanish Flu. Philadelphia, the governor said, didn’t move as quickly as St. Louis to enact social distancing, which led the city to a far worse outbreak.

If Ohio is not able to slow the spread of the virus by separating people, DeWine said the health care system will not be able to keep up.

“This social distancing is absolutely, vitally important,” DeWine said.

Meanwhile, a Columbus Fire Division firefighter/EMT was among two Franklin County residents who were confirmed Sunday as testing positive for COVID-19. That brought the total to three announced in the county over the weekend.

Ohio had 37 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Sunday afternoon. The Ohio Department of Health reported that 361 people are under investigation, and 140 have tested negative.

Dr. Amy Acton, state health director, said it is getting increasingly hard to provide accurate numbers on confirmed cases, because “they are pouring in so quickly.”

“Cases can be very misleading to the public, because it’s a past historical event. Because of our lack of testing, cases are just the tip of the iceberg…we will not have an accurate picture of that,“ Acton said.

Watch Gov. DeWine’s press conference live here:

Acton said the U.S. will have multiple “Wuhans,” referring to the city in China where the virus started and spiked quickly.

In a moderate COVID-19 outbreak, 200,000 intensive care units will be needed, and only 45,000 are available, Acton said. There are around 160,000 ventilators available in the U.S., possibly more in stockpile, that could be used on sick patients, Acton said.

Following the lead of other businesses, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium announced that it will close beginning Monday because of coronavirus concerns, joining a long list of central-Ohio attractions and organizations that have temporarily closed or suspended live performances and sporting events.

DeWine said on national television Sunday that Ohio’s classrooms may not be able to reopen this spring to complete the school year as the state’s number of coronavirus cases continues to spiral.

When asked about state testing Sunday afternoon, DeWine said it would depend on how the outbreak pans out.

“I don’t think we have to cross that bridge yet,” DeWine said. “But, I’ve made it very clear if we don’t do testing this year the world is certainly not going to come to an end.“

Schools across Ohio were ordered to close at the end of classes Monday, and many have already closed.

The governor’s nationally televised comments Sunday included an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning, where he was asked by host Brianna Keilar if his ordered three-week closure of schools could be extended.

“We’ve informed the superintendents while we close schools for three weeks, that the odds are that this is going to go on a lot longer and it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year,” the governor said.

The unwanted school holiday idles nearly 1.7 million school children, leaving many working parents scrambling to secure child care while some schools move to distance learning. Questions remain about required testing, make-up days, and for high school seniors, graduation.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” DeWine said decisions to close business and schools are tough.

“These are tough decisions. We’re inconveniencing people and making people’s lives change, but we’ve got to save lives. Everything we’re doing is to save lives” he said. “We’re taking tough steps.”

John Barker, president of the Ohio Restaurant Association and a former 20-year executive with Dublin-based Wendy’s whose duties included crisis management, said before DeWine’s announcement that the group was working with the governor’s administration.

Even before the restaurants were ordered to close, they were being advised to emphasize their carryout, curbside takeout and delivery options, he said.

Amid similar concerns about the outbreak’s impact on retail businesses, Abercrombie & Fitch announced Sunday that the company is closing all stores in North America for two weeks.

The New-Albany based retailer is also closing stores in Europe and the Middle East, while keeping its online business operating.

DeWine and Acton already had forbidden gatherings of more than 100 people.

The governor said while they are only expert estimates, more than 100,000 Ohioans could be infected with COVID-19 and servings as carriers of the infectious disease.

DeWine said 40% to 70% of Ohioans could end up contacting the virus, which is most deadly to the elderly with pre-existing health conditions. Ohio has recorded no deaths.

“And the point of that was just to illustrate to people that we have got a lot of people walking around in Ohio who are positive who’ve not been tested. Some don’t know it. Some may never know it. So, this is all to explain to people how fast that this moves,” he said.

What Keilar described as Ohio’s “aggressive actions” have been hailed across the nation by commentators and elected officials

The Columbus firefighter, whose case was announced by city officials, was among two Franklin County residents whose positive tests were revealed earlier in the day by public health officials, said Robin Davis, a spokesperson for Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther.

Fire Station 24 that serves the Northland neighborhood was out of service for much of Sunday to be professionally sanitized. The emergency vehicles – a medic, engine and ladder – have been decontaminated.

Thirty-one firefighters who had contact with this individual at the station are currently being evaluated. Franklin County Public Health is working with the Columbus Division of Fire to contact anyone else with whom the firefighter had contact, including those who he may have interacted with during service calls.

Earlier Sunday, Franklin County Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola first revealed the two additional confirmed coronavirus cases. An initial case, in the city of Columbus, was confirmed Saturday by state and local health officials.

Mazzola said the two additional cases, both men, age 52 and 35, live outside the city limits but within the county.

Mazzola said one of the men had recently traveled. Health officials are working to identify anyone who may have had contact with the two men.

“We certainly are doing all of the contract tracing for both individuals… that’s an active investigation,” Mazzola said.

rludlow@dispatch.com

@RandyLudlow

jfutty@dispatch.com

@johnfutty

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WATCH: @GovMikeDeWine (R) says he’s looking at closing bars and restaurants in Ohio. #MTP #IfItsSunday

When making decisions, he says he’s consulted the charts of the pandemic in 1918 — comparing St. Louis and Philadelphia: “What it tells us is … every day counts so much.” pic.twitter.com/8tilhN02xC

— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) March 15, 2020



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