DeWine: Ohio Economy to Slowly Open May 1

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine says Ohio will slowly start to reopen the economy beginning May 1, but only if companies can implement best practices for safety developed by essential businesses who have operated since the stay-at-home order was issued last month.

“We must get Ohio’s economy moving again. We must get people back to work,” DeWine said. “It is essential, though, that as we start back that we do this the right way. We must get this right because the stakes are very high. If we don’t do it right, the consequences are horrendous.” 

In essence, Ohio is facing a crisis on two fronts: a medical crisis and an economic crisis, DeWine said during Thursday’s daily briefing. Businesses will open slowly and will need to implement protocols like wearing masks, health screening checks prior to entering the workplace, limiting visitors, ensuring a proper stock of protection equipment, proper hygiene guidance and instruction for employees on self-monitoring for sickness and maintaining six-foot distances, he said.

DeWine made the announcement before he had a conference call with President Donald Trump. In the call, which involved governors of all 50 states, Trump said the state leaders can “call your own shots” about when to reopen.

“Some of you are in very, very good shape to open quickly and, if you’d like, according to the guidelines, you could open before the date of May 1,” the president said, according to The New York Times. 

Trump is also expected to announce soon that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make a hiring push and the federal government will help states pay for medical personnel to track the spread of COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus.

“We will be careful and monitor that cases don’t go back up and keep an eye on hospitalizations,” DeWine said. 

He emphasized that a more detailed plan is being put together and all this will be flexible and could change if Ohio starts to see a spike in cases. Part of the group in Ohio helping to inform decisions is the Economic Advisory Board. Announced April 2, the board includes 18 business leaders from Ohio-based organizations, including Sam Covelli, CEO of Covelli Entreprises, and Loretta Mester, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

DeWine said he will rely on the best advice he can get from both medical and business advisers, reiterating that even though businesses will begin to reopen, they must abide by the social distancing protocols.

In addition to business and medical leaders, DeWine will be working with the governors of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kentucky to make decision about reopening businesses.

In a statement, Minnesota Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the states would consider the rate of new infections and hospitalizations, the ability to test for and trace cases, health-care system capacity and best practices when making decisions.

“I’m an optimist. I know we can do this,” DeWine said about reopening in his daily press conference. “It’s tough, and it won’t be easy, but we can do this.”

DeWine’s original stay-at-home order was issued March 22, which closed most businesses in Ohio except for those deemed essential, particularly those in the grocery supply chain and in health care. A few days before the order’s April 6 expiration, DeWine extended the deadline to May 1

Earlier in the week, Trump said he wants to reopen the nation’s economy by May 1 and that he could supersede state orders to do so, though he backed down from those comments Thursday in his call with the governors. 

He also announced the formation of the “Opening Our Country Council,” with representation from 17 industries, though many who the president said were involved acknowledged they had not been included prior to the announcement. On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman issued a statement saying that he had been named to the Opening Up America Again Congressional Group.

“I believe it’s important for the president and his team of medical experts to get a wide range of advice and counsel as we work with state and local officials, employers, and other stakeholders to reopen the American economy safely.  I’m happy to serve in this capacity and provide my view on the most important factors we must consider in this process,” Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “First and foremost, as I’ve been saying for weeks, any effort to reopen the country must center around access to diagnostic testing. We need to have widespread testing in place to develop and track the necessary metrics that show the scope of pandemic and show folks all across America when it’s safe to reopen our schools and go back to work.”

The push to reopen businesses that were deemed nonessential comes as more than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits over the past four weeks. Twelve million have received their benefits, a total on par with the historic peak during the Great Recession.

In Ohio alone, 158,000 filed claims last week, bringing the four-week total to 855,197, far surpassing the filings from 2018 and 2019 combined, which totaled 715,512. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said Thursday it had approved $227 million to 271,000 claimants over the past four weeks.

Across the state line, Pennsylvania reports 238,357 unemployment filings to bring the four-week total to 1.3 million, or nearly 20% of the workforce. 

According to the Associated Press, some economists are forecasting the unemployment rate to hit 20% in April, the highest rate the nation has seen since the Great Depression. During the Great Recession 12 years ago, the unemployment rate didn’t crest 10%.

At Moody’s Analytics, economist Ryan Sweet says the United States’ output could shrink up to 10.5%, more than double the contraction seen during the Great Recession.

Up to 50 million jobs are vulnerable to coronavirus-related layoffs, economists say, or about a third of all jobs in the United States. That figure is based on a calculation of jobs that are deemed nonessential by state and federal governments and that cannot be done remotely 

“This crisis combines the scale of a national economic downturn with the pace of a natural disaster,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, told the Associated Press. “And that’s really unprecedented in American economic history.”

In Congress, work has stalled on a second round of funding from the Paycheck Protection Program that disbursed $349 trillion to small businesses across the country. The Small Business Administration, which often served as the go-between for banks and the Treasury Department, said Thursday the allocated funds had been depleted with 1.4 million loans approved.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is expected to resume negotiations with Congress to add another $250 billion to the fund. Both Republicans and Democrats have agreed that a second round of funding is needed, but disagreed on what kind of changes will be made to the system used to get money to small businesses. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.