COLUMBUS, Ohio – During a COVID briefing last week Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced the statewide curfew could be lifted as early as this week if COVID hospitalizations stayed below 2,500 for seven consecutive days.
Over the last week, the numbers of patients admitted to Ohio hospitals with COVID confirmed and probable cases fell from a high of 2,486 down to as low as 1,969 on Sunday:
February 2: 2,486
February 3: 2,380
February 4: 2,251
February 5: 2,172
February 6: 2,026
February 7: 1,969
February 8: 2,012
During the same briefing, DeWine also said even though the numbers have gone down, they can come back up. He warned that the virus “has a mind of its own” and is unpredictable.
The original order required Ohioans, with a lengthy list of exceptions, to be in a residence between 10:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
But as COVID hospital utilization plummeted, DeWine cut a new deal with Ohioans – if COVID hospitalizations stayed below 3,500 for seven days then the curfew would start at 11 o’clock. If inpatient stays sink below 2,500 for a week then the curfew can be lifted, according to DeWine’s new social contract.
Ohio Department of Health Director Stephanie McCloud inked the extended curfew order January 27, pushing the deadline to 11:00p.m.
Recent precedent indicates the Governor will hold two briefings this week – Tuesday and Thursday. The Ohio Star asked Governor DeWine’s Press Secretary Dan Tierney if the curfew would be lifted on Tuesday or if he would wait until Thursday. He said he did not expect an update on Tuesday, but “we will be continuing to review in advance of the Thursday deadline.”
Ohio restaurants and bars have been hit particularly hard by the curfew. In addition to the cost to get their facilities up to snuff with COVID protocols, businesses are required to keep their customers six feet apart, slashing the number of people establishments can serve.
“Getting rid of the curfew is getting rid of the biggest barrier in front of bars and restaurants this year,” said Aaron Crater, a bartender and Founder of BARHOP – an advocate for service industry professionals.
“Masking and distancing measures have hurt, but nothing to the extent of the curfew,” he said.
Crater has been in the bar and restaurant business nearly 15 years, he told The Star in an interview, saying “every bar I’ve worked at, 50% or greater in sales comes after 10:00 p.m. That’s the make-or-break point – the point where a business can make money above paying bills.”
As if the restricted hours, customers and revenues weren’t enough of a challenge, some establishments backed into a financial corner have endured stakeouts by the government’s Ohio Investigative Unit that issues citations, including fines and license revocation.
“The biggest complaint I’ve heard from bars I’ve talked to: there’s been literally no evidence that the curfew has been effective at stopping the spread of COVID. It has been effective at costing jobs and businesses,” said Crater.
He continued, “[B]ack in November, two days before the Governor announced he was looking at closing restaurants and bars completely down again, he held a press conference where his medical advisors said spread was not happening at bars and restaurants, it was happening at smaller gatherings. And today, people are still socializing, they’re just not doing it in a bar or restaurant past 10. People are going into an environment like house parties that the Governor himself says are unsafe.”
Crater said he is grateful DeWine has attached a metric to decisions regarding the curfew. Unfortunately, according to Crater, the Governor is looking at the wrong metric – hospitalizations. He said Ohio has contact tracing data the State of Ohio “should have used from the very beginning because it shows how many cases were coming from bars and restaurants. With few exceptions, that number is virtually zero.”
– – –