Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. John Husted and Public Health Director Amy Acton announced Sunday that all Ohio bars and restaurants will be ordered closed at 9 p.m. and until further notice.
DeWine said at the afternoon press conference that he was moved to make the decision after receiving photos from multiple parts of Ohio which showed gatherings of people in restaurants and bars.
As with previous measures enacted to mitigate the spread of the novel Coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, DeWine said that the decision to close restaurants and bars was made to protect the state's most vulnerable populations and to prevent a surge that would overburden the state's healthcare facilities.
Dr. Acton said that, taking cues from Italy and France, Ohio had to behave as if we were at war — at war with a virus. She reiterated a helpful metaphor in describing the latest measures and how it would affect the state's hospitals.
"It's a like a hurricane evacuation," she said. "Ideally, we'd all evacuate before the hurricane arrives. Right now, it's like the beginning the downpour."
She said that when hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 patients, it's not only other COVID-19 patients who will suffer. It's anyone who needs medical resources: those giving birth, those in car crashes, those who suffer heart attacks and strokes. All of them are at risk. She said the United States, in part because of its sluggish response to the virus, could expect "multiple Wuhans," referencing Coronavirus's city of origin in China.
Acton provided the most recent available statistics on COVID-19 testing in the state: There are now 36 positive cases with more than 360 under investigation. But she stressed that these numbers were increasingly difficult to report accurately because they were coming in so quickly, and that they were becoming less relevant anyway.
Given the length of the virus' incubation period (6-14 days), in which symptoms may never present themselves, Acton said that we should all be behaving as if we are carrying the virus. That means extreme social distancing whenever possible. In a Q&A, she suggested that "physical distancing" might be a more helpful term.
DeWine and Husted advised that despite the closures of bars and restaurants, carryout and delivery would still in effect and should be taken advantage of, so as not to overwhelm local grocery stores.
Furthermore, they announced changes to the state's unemployment benefits program to help ameliorate the negative economic impacts on small business owners and employees, all of whom can expect steep losses in the coming weeks. Among other things, the eligibility requirements for unemployment will be expanded and recipients will be under no obligation to apply for jobs during the length of the emergency. A one-week delay for the first payment will be expedited.
As an additional measure to reduce harm for small business owners, Husted announced a high-proof liquor buyback program for bars and restaurants that purchased large amounts of liquor in the past 30 days to prepare for St. Patrick's Day festivities and/or March Madness.
DeWine repeatedly said how sorry he was to have had to make this difficult decision and said that, coming from a family of small business owners himself, he understood the pain and suffering that comes from even temporary closures.
"But we are literally at a crucial, crucial stage, he said. "Our goal is for everyone to get through this, that next St. Patrick's Day, everyone will be there, that everyone will be able to live their life and the American dream. But if people aren't around, they can't do that. The more we delay, the more people will die."
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.