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Coronavirus In Ohio: How DeWine's Stay-At-Home Order Stacks Up To Neighboring States

A sign at Dempsey's says "shut happens."
David Holm
A sign at Dempsey's says "shut happens."

The stay-at-home order in place for Ohio has been extended until May 1, and each state neighboring Ohio has imposed similar measures. Both have seen higher numbers of both coronavirus cases and deaths.

Ohio's order, originally issued March 23 by Department of Health Amy Acton, directed Ohioans to stay home except for a handful of essential activities like visiting the grocery store and pharmacy. Residents could also get exercise so long as they maintain social distance.

Ohio also shuttered non-essential businesses, but its long list of exceptions has created some headaches. There are 25 different categories of "essential" businesses, some which are very broad.

State officials resolutely refused to define which businesses qualify and which don’t, instead encouraging business owners to “read the order.” But with 113 health departments around the state, Gov. Mike DeWine admitted enforcement has followed something of a patchwork approach.

“We’ve created a dispute resolution panel,” DeWine said last week, while announcing the order's extension. “This will be in cases where similar, very similar, businesses are being treated differently in different counties or under different health districts.”

Under that extension, state officials offered clarity on exceptions for services like weddings and funerals. The service itself will remain exempt, but the reception afterward must comply with the 10-person limit on gatherings.

The order also lays out new guidelines for grocery stores requiring they strictly enforce a maximum capacity, maintain social distance in lines and clean carts between shoppers.

As of Tuesday, Ohio reports 4,782 confirmed cases and 167 deaths from COVID-19.


In that state up north, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a stay-at-home order the same day as DeWine. She’s likely to extend that order sometime this week.

Michigan ranks third in the country for both coronavirus cases and deaths. The state reports 17,130 confirmed cases and 729 deaths, as of Tuesday.

Like Ohio, Michigan’s order restricts all but essential businesses. Their list of essential businesses, though, is much shorter than Ohio’s. Both states allow work to continue that is included in a federally-defined list of critical infrastructure.

Michigan also allows for child care, insurance industry and some labor union work to continue as well as minimum operations for business that can’t be done from home.

Officials in Michigan also allow some companies to operate if they’re supporting an essential business, but unlike in Ohio, the essential business has to request in writing that the other company continue operating.

While Ohio officials have been quick to downplay the enforcement side of their order, Whitmer was direct about how serious hers is.

“If you need to do banking or gas up your car, you can do some of those fundamental things that are necessary for life, go get your prescription,” Whitmer said. “But for any businesses that don’t heed this order and are not essential services, I would anticipate that there will be fines associated with not doing that and they will be shut.”

Under a related orderissued by the state health director, violators of Michigan’s stay-at-home order could face up to a $1,000 civil penalty, and see their case referred to state licensing agencies for further sancitons.


While Ohio and Michigan issued statewide orders March 23, Pennsylvania followed more of a stair-step approach.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s first order on March 23 covered seven counties. That was later expanded to 33 counties, and on April 1 was extended again to cover the entire state.

Pennsylvania ranks sixth in the country for coronavirus cases, with 14,582, and has 240 deaths. 

Wolf acknowledged closing up shop around the state will be painful, but he argued there are more important concerns in the short term.

“Before we can save livelihoods, we must save lives,” Wolf said in a video statement. “So I will be working local officials, permitting authorities and others to enforce mandatory closures. We will be using every tool possible to ensure that we are mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”

Unlike Ohio and Michigan, Pennsylvania’s order comes with explicit guidance, broken down by federal industry codes, for which businesses can stay open. Construction work in Pennsylvania has been halted, except for emergency repairs. In Ohio, building and construction trades are set down as an essential business along with plumbers, HVAC workers and electricians among others.

So far, state police in Pennsylvania say they have issued six warnings and two citationsrelated to Wolf’s order.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.