COLUMBUS, Ohio–Responding to reports of crowded patios around Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday the state is “marshaling all the resources at our disposal” to assemble law-enforcement and health officials to ensure bars and restaurants are following the state’s social-distancing rules.
The governor, speaking at his regular coronavirus briefing, said the state is assembling “a large contingent of law enforcement and health officials from across state agencies and from our local communities” to conduct compliance checks and refer offenders for prosecution. Violators, among other potential penalties, could lose their liquor licenses.
DeWine said the people will be added to the Ohio Investigative Unit, under the state Department of Public Safety, which currently consists of about 70 people. The governor said he didn’t yet know how many more people will be added to the unit.
The governor’s announcement follows reports and social-media posts about large numbers of people standing and milling around at establishments in Cleveland and elsewhere around the state this weekend, which reopened after the DeWine administration allowed bars and restaurants to resume outdoor service on Friday.
DeWine said the Ohio Investigative Unit handed out several citations to restaurants and bars over the weekend, including establishments in Columbus and Medway, in Clark County. Separately, local health departments can also issue warnings and citations, he said, noting particularly that Columbus so far has issued eight citations.
The governor noted that all restaurants and bars must keep employees and patrons at least six feet away from each other at all times to curb the spread of coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,600 Ohioans as of Monday. Under the Ohio Department of Health’s order, customers must remain seated when dining and/or drinking — though that point was not mentioned in the list of mandatory requirements for restaurants that was posted to the state’s Restart Ohio website.
Asked why the rule wasn’t included in the list, DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney stated in an email that “it was, but in different terms.” He pointed to a section stating “The open congregate areas in restaurants and bars that are not necessary for the preparation and service of food or beverages (billiards, card playing, pinball games, video games, arcade games, dancing, entertainment) shall remain closed.”
DeWine said while most restaurants and bars around the state have been doing an “amazingly good job” since reopening Friday, there are some “outliers” whose conduct “jeopardizes our ability, frankly, to move forward as a state.”
The governor continued: “They have an obligation to control the environment. And if they cannot control the environment, they should make the wise judgment not to open – or if they get into a situation where they can’t control it, they need to close.”
The governor also said that individuals caught violating the six-foot distancing rule at bars and restaurants can also be personally cited. “We would not rule that out at all,” he said.
DeWine, repeating a comment he has said frequently, said Ohio’s economic recovery is tied directly to how successful the state is in reducing the transmission of the virus.
“If we’re going to bring the economy back, people have to feel safe when they go out,” he said. “They have to feel that the rules are being followed when they go to a restaurant.”
However, DeWine said he was not surprised that some patios were packed on a warm spring weekend.
“It’s nice outside,” he said. “People want to get out.”
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