Breaking: Ohio Health Director Orders Polls Closed; More Businesses to Close

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced shortly after 10 p.m. Monday that Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio’s health director, has ordered the polls closed tomorrow “as a health emergency.” Earlier, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye ruled that it was too late to change the date of tomorrow’s primary election in Ohio. Check back for more details.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine announced today the state would seek to postpone Tuesday’s primary election day until June 2 because of the coronavirus pandemic. He also ordered all nonessential businesses to close by end-of-day Monday.

State officials will seek approval from Franklin County Common Pleas Court to postpone the election and permit absentee ballot applications until the June 2 date. 

DeWine said in-person voting as scheduled Tuesday “does not conform and cannot conform” with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limiting acceptable mass meetings and groupings to 50 people and fewer. 

“We have tried to follow the best science from the best people that we have,” DeWine said during the news conference, which was live-streamed on the Ohio Channel website. “We cannot conduct this election tomorrow for 13 hours and conform to these guidelines.” 

Many Ohioans have contacted state officials – both prospective voters and poll workers – expressing concerns about going out in public amid the escalating cases and increasing social distancing measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. 

“We should not force them to make this choice between their health and their constitutional rights and their duties as American citizens,” Dewine said. “Further, we should not be in a situation where the votes of these individuals who are conflicted are suppressed.” 

Advice from public officials over the past week all pointed toward being able to hold an election that was safe for both poll workers and voters, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said. Information has continued to evolve regarding the outbreak.  

“We know that it would not be safe,” he said. 

“The facts continue to change and not just facts continue to change,” Dewine said. “Quite bluntly, the public’s understanding continues to change.” 

As a real-time example of the swiftly changing nature of the outbreak, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced information just released from the White House calling on gatherings to be limited to 10 or fewer people.  

“Suspending in-person voting is a serous matter and we have tried to do everything we could to avoid that,” LaRose said. 

In an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, DeWine issued new orders to close some nonessential businesses by Monday evening. He also modified the number of people gathering to 50 or fewer, urged people 65 and older not to go out and assured residents that essential lifelines such as grocery stores, financial institutions and carryout food service will remain open.  

Businesses included in the new order are fitness centers and gyms, bowling alleys, public recreation centers, movie theaters and indoor water and trampoline parks. DeWine modified the order on public gatherings to 50 people from 100 to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the press conference, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted read a statement that was handed to him, issued moments before from President Donald Trump, suggesting that gatherings should be no more than 10 people. 

“We’re trying to make decisions in line with where the country is going on this matter,” Husted said. “Things change really quickly and we have to change along with them.”

DeWine answered a question about enforcing this ban as being up to citizens to use common sense. 

“We hope that Ohioans will follow this advice. You can’t enforce it every time, but we hope people take it seriously,” DeWine said. “We are in a crisis today that no one alive today has seen. This is a once in a hundred year crisis. I was joking earlier about invasion, but we have been invaded and we need to treat this as any huge national crisis.”

Husted encouraged workers who are affected by job loss during this time to go online to register for unemployment if possible and leave the phone lines open for people who may not have Internet access. 

“Unemployment compensation is available for those employees displaced by this situation,” he said. 

Displaced workers can go to Unemployment.ohio.gov. For those unable to go online, call 877 644 6562. Husted said phone lines are busy and callers are waiting more than 30 minutes.

“Last Sunday we had 562 applications. This past Sunday we had 12,000 so people are being affected,” he said. 

Husted said one of the ways that employers can help slow the spread of the virus is to send home an employee exhibiting signs of illness.

“If your company doesn’t have paid sick leave they [employees] are immediately eligible for unemployment,” Husted said. “We’re trying to build a support structure around you and fast as we can and we hope federal efforts will give a boost to these efforts.”

As of Monday afternoon, Ohio has 50 confirmed cases in 12 counties and 14 people are hospitalized. There have been two positive diagnoses in Trumbull County but none in Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

Anyone with questions or information pertaining to coronavirus can call an information hotline that has been established by the Ohio Department of Health at 833 427 5634.

Lisa Solley contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.