DeWine: Business ‘Will Not Be Like It Was’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — While Gov. Mike DeWine could not offer an exact time of when Ohio businesses can reopen, he says now is the time to start thinking about workplaces will look like when that time comes.

During the daily briefing at the statehouse, DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the question isn’t so much when business will reopen, but how.

“It’s not going to be a light switch,” Husted said. “It’s going to be a slower process. An incremental rollback.”

The state has been working with and taking advice from representatives of essential businesses – including restaurants, manufacturers, retail and recreation – to outline best practices for maintaining a hygienic, safe work environment. When the time comes for nonessential businesses to reopen their doors, they will need to implement these best practices, some of which can be found at Coronavirus.ohio.gov/businesshelp.

“We want the employees to know that the businesses that they go back to are practicing safe business practices so you can feel confident as a member of that workforce to be able to do that and that it’s safe,” Husted said.

The “slow trickle” back to work will include a “functional social distancing” that includes use of masks, individuals being honest about being sick and staying home, and implementing safeguards for people who have to stay home so they don’t lose their jobs,” said Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have encouraged individuals to wear some type of mask when going out in public. For the past few days, DeWine, Husted and Acton have been wearing masks as they enter the statehouse chamber before every briefing.

“I can’t imagine a business that’s going to open up without employees all wearing one of these,” said DeWine, holding up his mask.

DeWine addressed business owners “chomping at the bit” to open, saying that when they do get the green light to open, it will be “with a situation that is not ideal.” COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus, will still be present and will still be deadly to some, he said.

“It will not be like it was until we get a vaccine,” DeWine said.

Though Ohioans’ adherence to mitigation efforts enacted by the state have helped to flatted the projected curve of positive diagnoses, “the truth is, we lost 50 people in the last 24 hours,” he said. On Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 324 deaths from COVID-19, up from some 276 on Monday.

While DeWine said he’s as frustrated as the Ohioans who contact him daily asking when businesses can reopen, he contends the state must be “deliberate and careful and thoughtful” when doing so. Opening too early could cause medical and economic issues at the same time, he cautioned, saying “the vast majority of people” will not go back to certain businesses if they are afraid.

“We have to really be listening to our doctors, our medical experts, our public health leaders to make sure that we open gradually and thoughtfully,” added Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, who spoke via video conference.

He recalled the sentiment of Cameron Mitchell, founder and CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants LLC in Columbus, who said businesses in the community “have the wherewithal and capacity to reopen once,” Ginther said.

From a medical standpoint, the state has been working at an “unprecedented level” of partnership with hospitals, nursing homes and other community agencies on how to respond to “ongoing hotspots and flareups” in the state, Acton said. Spikes of cases could be ongoing until there is a vaccine, and Acton is working with the Emergency Operating Center in Columbus to deal with the spikes.

When asked what is the “magic number” as far as cases within a timeframe when it would be safe to open, Acton said, it’s more about seeing a sustained decrease.

“Ideally, we would get down to the point where we could contact trace everyone,” she said.

“We know we won’t get to absolute zero because we know this infection is out there and if you open in anyway, and as you’re now seeing in China … you’ll start to see an uptick,” she said. “What I am building right now is the ability to have the best numbers possible. And it’s been very hard. We still do not know the prevalence of this disease in Ohio around this country.”

To get those numbers requires expanded serologic testing – testing blood for antibodies. The state is also implementing a scientist-led study using as few tests as 1,000 done randomly “that will start to give us some numbers,” she said.

“Little by little, we’re gathering all the best data we can, and each day we’re going to keep loading up on more numbers we can follow,” she said.

Workers in the Emergency Control Center are reviewing that data and analyzing higher risk and lower risk situations so they can detect and respond to flares by sending resources “in the right place at the right time,” she said.

“This is a system that did not really exist in this country and we’ve been building it in two to three weeks,” she said. “We are working, working, working to build this out, because we’re going to need this infrastructure until we’ve tamed this virus.”

In an effort to protect first responders and Emergency Medical Service workers, Acton announced a new order to address the lack of personal protective equipment available to individuals responding to people who test positive for COVID-19.

The state will be sharing with first responders names and addresses of individuals who might be carrying the disease, or who have recovered and might still be contagious, she said. The information will be kept confidential.

“This order protects that as confidential information for dispatchers to make sure that folks are property protected when they’re transporting someone who may have COVID-19,” she said.

Pictured: Gov. Mike DeWine holds up his mask that he’s been wearing to press briefings for the last few days.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.