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Ohio Restaurants And Bars Push Back On DeWine's Shutdown Threat

Restaurants and businesses on Grandview Avenue on May 14, 2020.
David Holm
Restaurants and businesses on Grandview Avenue on May 14, 2020.

More than a half a million people work in Ohio’s bar and restaurant industry, which is pushing back on an announcement from Gov. Mike DeWine that he would consider shutting down those businesses next week if the state’s COVID-19 numbers don’t improve.

Ohio Restaurant Association president and CEO John Barker said his members are on board with COVID-19 safety rules and have embraced heightened enforcement, especially from Liquor Control.  

“If you've looked at what's going on, there have been a drumbeat of suspensions, fines and taking away licenses completely," Barker said. "And we have been 100% with the governor and with Public Safety on that."

Barker noted that medical experts said in DeWine’s own press conference Mondaythat bars and restaurants are taking the rules seriously, and that the coronavirus is spreading most through social gatherings.

With no federal relief bill in sight from Congress, and with so many businesses running short of revenue, Barker said restaurants and bars have shared their concerns in a flood of communications. 

“We've gotten somewhere in the hundreds and probably now over a thousand, quite honestly, emails, calls and texts from the restaurant community, across the board, they find this just completely unfair to even signal out an industry to identify," Barker said.

Barker said his group will present ideas beyond a shutdown. Some of those coming from members include instituting fines or making arrests for not wearing masks and immediate closures for businesses not following COVID-19 rules.

DeWine this week announced the state would strengthen its face mask mandates to require businesses to post a sign at all entrances, and putting the onus on businesses to make sure employees and customers are wearing face masks at all times. Businesses found in violation of the order would be issued a warning and then closed for up to 24 hours.

On Thursday, Ohio recorded its 18th day of record hospitalizations for COVID, with 3,024 Ohioans in the hospital, taking up more than 11% of the state's hospital beds. Those numbers dropped to 2,981 on Friday, with 735 in the ICU. But that's still about double the number of patients in the ICU two weeks ago.