By FARNOUSH AMIRI AND ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
Report For America/Associated Press
COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced a three-week 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. general curfew, with multiple exceptions, meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus as cases stay at near-record high levels.
DeWine said the measure, effective Thursday, is needed to reduce cases and stop the state’s hospitals from being overrun. The curfew, under which businesses must close, paired with increased mask-wearing, could help cut contacts between people by 20% to 25%, he said.
DeWine also asked Ohioans to consolidate their movements — such as combining shopping trips — and do at least one thing daily to reduce contact with others.
“We know that if we reduce the number of people we come in contact every day with, that we reduce the chances of getting the virus, and we reduce the chances of spreading the virus if you unknowingly have it,” the governor said.
The curfew comes with so many exceptions that DeWine struggled at times to explain how life would actually change for many people. It exempts pharmacies and groceries and restaurants offering takeout or delivery service. Previously, DeWine had ordered restaurants and bars to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. The new order requires those businesses to close all dine-in and walk-in service by 10 p.m.
The order doesn’t apply to people who need to be at work, who have an emergency or need medical care, DeWine said.
The governor said he doesn’t want local police to shoulder the burden of strict enforcement, but said he could envision them breaking up a large outdoor gathering.
“Of course there’s more people out during the day than there is between 10 o’clock and 5 a.m., but there are people out at 10 o’clock,” the governor said. “This should eliminate most of that additional congregating.”
Under an existing Ohio law governing public health orders, any resident found in violation of the curfew could be charged with a second degree misdemeanor that comes with a $750 fine and 90-day jail sentence.
“To my knowledge, no one has yet to be charged under this statute, but that does not mean they cannot be,” DeWine said.
DeWine said his administration considered but rejected a total shutdown of bars and restaurants, a possibility that was strongly fought by the hospitality industry.
“We think we can accomplish, frankly, a lot more by having this curfew than by closing one or two business sectors,” the governor said. A total shutdown would probably cause some businesses to close for good, mean all schools would close, and add to the mental stress Ohioans are already experiencing during the prolonged pandemic, DeWine said.
A point the governor did not bring up: the Legislature might have moved to repeal a total shutdown, but that process, including a veto override, would take longer than a three-week curfew.
The state restaurant association expressed support for the move Tuesday.
“We think it’s the right step at the right time,” said John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.
Epidemiologists, who study the spread of disease, questioned the effectiveness of such a curfew.
“We really need something to happen now, and I don’t think this is going to do it,” said Tara Smith, a public health professor at Kent State University.
She was hoping to hear the governor announce something more drastic, such as a temporary closure of restaurants and bars combined with a way to compensate their owners and workers.
Brian Fink, an epidemiologist at the University of Toledo, said it would take until December to see whether the curfew is reducing the number of cases and hospitalizations, and even then it might not be clear.
“It’s so simple, if more individuals thought of the health and well-being of everyone and not making it a political issue, we’d be in a much better situation,” he said.
Even as DeWine was announcing the curfew, Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, was testifying in favor of his bill that would eliminate the existing 10 p.m. ban on alcohol sales.
“The Senate worked hard to make sure that there would not be a targeted shutdown of certain businesses,” said Obhof spokesperson John Fortney. Several pending bills would prohibit stay-at-home orders, “and we are prepared to move forward as necessary,” he said.
Ohio hospital and intensive care admissions for COVID-19 are at record highs, with more than 3,600 people hospitalized as of Tuesday. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio has risen over the past two weeks from 3,097 new cases per day on Nov. 2 to 7,199 new cases per day on Nov. 16, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by The COVID Tracking Project.