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Public Health Expert Calls For Tougher Measures From DeWine To Stem Surge

As Ohio continues to report record-breaking rates of COVID-19 cases, Kent State public health professor Tina Bhargava says Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and other state and local leaders need to consider closing some businesses to stem the surge in cases.

Some shutdowns are needed to get COVID-19 under control in Ohio, Bhargava said.

Bhargava studies mental bandwidth - our brain’s capacity for decision-making. So far, Governor DeWine has relied on people making responsible personal choices to curb the spread of COVID-19 – such as not gathering with family and friends – but people are already too strained from the stress of the pandemic to make rational choices, she said.

“We’ve got the most extreme demand on our bandwidth, and then we’ve got people asking us to make constant decisions over and over that automatically, we would do a different way,” Bhargava said.

She recommends state and local officials take steps to keep people from putting themselves at risk by closing some nonessential businesses and canceling community events. 

“Having a holiday lighting festival in your community and telling people to come and social distance and wear masks and not talk to each other and not hug each other when they haven’t seen each other in months, is not a reasonable expectation of people,” she said.

In that case, it would be better to cancel events altogether, rather than holding them and relying on people to follow the rules, she said.

Governor DeWine is considering closing down non-essential businesses such as restaurants, bars, and gyms if numbers do not improve. DeWine indicated he will make a decision next week based on if the number of COVID-19 cases declines or if they continue to rise.

DeWine has previously expressed hesitancy for implementing a new stay-at-home order, wherein non-essential businesses would close and people would be asked not to gather with people outside those in their own household.

A large-scale order such as this would not target the places where health officials have said the majority spread is occurring – informal social gatherings where people are not wearing masks or social distancing, a governor's office spokesperson said.

DeWine is also considering an order that would close congregate settings in bars and restaurants, such as places where people dance and play games.

These measures are a step in the right direction but are not enough to keep people safe, Bhargava said.

If a business can effectively enforce masking and distancing requirements, they do not necessarily need to be closed, she said.

“But I think we have to make some hard decisions between – do we do the right public health thing and try to protect the health of our community and help our businesses adjust to that? Or do we do the right thing for our businesses and then try to adjust the health response? And unfortunately, that’s not very feasible,” she said.

By restricting or closing non-essential businesses, it will also encourage people to make healthier choices in their own homes and at social gatherings, she added.

“When our brains are so stressed, it’s harder for our brains to find all those nuances and that gray area, and to sort through it and to make the right decisions," Bhargava said. “It’s hard for people to understand why it’s okay for people to go to a restaurant and sit in a restaurant and have food together, but it’s not okay for them to have people over at their house for Thanksgiving."

Governor DeWine is expected to release the new order closing down congregate areas early next week.

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.

Anna joined ideastream in 2019, where she reports on health news for WCPN and WVIZ in Cleveland. She has also served as an associate producer for NewsDepth. Before that, Anna was a 2019 Carnegie-Knight News21 fellow at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.