Ohio’s Path to Reopening Guided by Safety Measures

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With most businesses in Ohio set to reopen in the coming weeks, Gov. Mike DeWine outlined the measures they will have to adhere to in order to continue slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Five protocols were outlined for businesses that will be operating, whether they’re reopening due to eased restrictions or have remained open as essential businesses: employees must and clients must wear face coverings, daily health assessments for workers must be conducted, good hygiene including hand washing and social distancing must be practiced, workplaces must be sanitized between shifts and at the close of business, and capacity is limited to a maximum of 50% of the fire code. Businesses are also encouraged to use appointments for clients when possible.

“The most essential ones are still the same. Distance, distance, distance. Second, washing our hands. Third, normal sanitation of surfaces. And masks, something to cover our face,” DeWine said Monday at his daily press conference. “These are the things we’ve used successfully and these are things we will continue to do as we move forward in the economy.”

If an employee or customer is diagnosed COVID-19, businesses must immediately report it to their local health department and work with the agency on contact tracing, close the workplace for deep cleaning and reopen in consultation with the health department.

Beginning Friday, medical offices can resume full operations, with the exception of procedures that require overnight stays. On May 4, businesses in the manufacturing, distribution and construction sectors will be able to resume full business with those safety measures in place, as will “general office environments.” On May 12, operations can resume in consumer, retail and service businesses. 

Industry-specific guidelines for each area are available here. All businesses should reconfigure their operations to allow employees to be six feet apart at all times and stagger shifts when possible. For those in retail, checkouts should have plastic dividers between cashiers and customers. And employees should be allowed to work from home when possible.

The timeline for reopening sectors was chosen, DeWine said, based on each’s ability to control their work environments. 

The medical field, he explained, is best prepared to minimize contact and respond to possible coronavirus transmission, while retail businesses that have lots of foot traffic and customers traveling from a wide range of areas are more likely to have people who are potentially carrying COVID-19.

Compliance will be carried out the same as previous measures, he continued, with local health departments and possibly police enforcing the protocols. But, DeWine noted, most businesses in the state complied without such enforcement. 

Businesses that are not yet allowed to reopen are schools, dine-in restaurants, personal appearance and beauty businesses, adult day-care and senior services, adult day support and vocational habilitation services, gyms and recreation and entertainment venues.

While some have called on DeWine to fully reopen the economy, with no restrictions on which sectors can operate, the governor said doing so would be “totally irresponsible.”

“I have an obligation as the governor of this state to do two things right now: get people back to work and keep them safe,” he said. “That [move to reopen all businesses] would not be consistent with keeping them safe. … If Ohioans go back to business as usual, this curve will go straight back up and we’ll have more Ohioans dying. I’m not going to do that.”

The plan was developed, DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said, in consultation with business and medical leaders. It also drew in part from a handbook distributed to the governors of all states that outlined possible steps for returning to business as usual, said Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

“The entire country is trying to figure this out. Prior to this, there was no roadmap. We’ve looked at every piece of advice. There’s the Roadmap to Recovery that has information for all the governors,” she said. “It looks at all the best evidence from all the best folks in a wide range of sectors. There isn’t one exact right path forward.”

It’s also possible, the three said, that the rules on who can reopen and when may change.

“We need to layer this and go slowly in a measured way,” Acton said. “We’ll make moves, be surgical and learn from that, as will the entire country. We’ll make adjustments. We’ll have to make audibles.”

Businesses are not required to reopen, DeWine and Husted said. Each company should make its own evaluation of whether or not it can keep its workers and customers safe. If there are employees that fall into at-risk categories, such as those over 60 or have compromised immune systems, they should be accommodated in plans to reopen.

“Just because we’ve announced you can reopen, it doesn’t mean you flip a switch and everybody’s back,” Husted said. “You have to build a customer base, a market for your product. That takes time. We encourage employers to phase in people with health issues or in vulnerable populations to bring them in last after we know this is working.”

A geographical approach to reopening businesses was considered, DeWine said, but with 113 health departments across the state, allowing each to set their own rules would have been “a disaster.” 

“People would be confused,” he said. “You could do one thing in one district and the district next door has something else.” 

The plan to reopen Ohio’s economy will work alongside efforts to increase testing and contact tracing statewide. On Friday, DeWine announced that deals with two companies operating in the state – Roe Dental and Thermo Fisher Scientific – will help increase the daily number of tests available in the state via public agencies to 7,200 by Wednesday and 22,000 by May 27. 

“That’s not really the entire testing picture because it doesn’t include private labs,” DeWine noted, referring to a chart of the state’s new testing capacity. “As long as they can perform tests and get results back quickly, they can rock ‘n’ roll. You’re also seeing pharmacies partnering with others to do testing. I expect testing to be more robust than what we show here.”

And, Acton noted, the reopening of the economy relies heavily on individuals adhering to the safety standards used over the past month.

“Your health and wellbeing is never a zero sum game. It’s never your individual health pitted against where you work. It’s never your health versus your place of faith,” she said. “Public health is about all of these things collectively. To continue to move forward, we all have to continue to be our best selves.”

In the manufacturing sector, Jessica Borza, president of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, said members have had time to prepare as they were considered essential businesses from the outset.

“They’ve had a little bit of time to figure out safety protocols and so forth in order to ensure the safety of their employees while also getting their product out the door,” she said in a statement. “The coalition will be facilitating information sharing among our members. This week we will have a virtual manufacturers roundtable where some of these manufacturers who have figured some of this out will be able to share some of that information with others.”

The Ohio Restaurant Association, meanwhile, urged DeWine to allow restaurants across the state to reopen for dine-in service starting May 15. Nearly 300,000 restaurant workers have been laid off, the association said in a statement, and half of Ohio restaurants have closed.

“Ohio restaurants, working closely and in partnership with the local health inspectors who regulate our industry, have always operated with an extreme focus on safety – food safety, employee safety and guest safety,” said President John Barker. “Every week that goes by will claim another percentage of restaurants that will never reopen, jobs that will disappear permanently and communities that will be left without their local restaurants that are often the cornerstones of their downtowns and neighborhoods and fuel so much economic development.”

Before the governor’s press conference began, the Ohio House Democrats called on DeWine to address 10 areas of focus in the state plan to reopen the economy. Six of the topics – testing, tracing, hygiene, childcare, vulnerable populations and consumer confidence – were addressed at least in part during the press conference. Unaddressed were worker protections, support for businesses, the general election in November and public awareness.

“As we begin this incremental process of reopening our state, we must proceed with caution,” said Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes. “As Gov. DeWine said, ‘We save our economy by first saving lives and we do it in that order.’ While Ohioans have successfully flattened the curve by staying home, there is a very real risk for a second spike if we are not cautious moving forward. There is proof that countries who have not put in place adequate procedures have found themselves in a second surge where illness and deaths spiked.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.