COLUMBUS, Ohio — Businesses that continue to operate during Ohio’s stay-at-home order should be prepared to explain why they have deemed themselves “essential” during the COVID-19 crisis, Lt. Gov. John Husted said Wednesday afternoon. The state can’t help them decide whether to stay open, but it can penalize them for endangering customers and workers.
“If you’re violating this, you will get called on it, either by a competitor, an employer, a neighbor — somebody will call you out, and you need to make sure that you’re doing this the right way so you can justify your operations,” Husted said, adding later: “We need to hold everyone accountable to be fair.”
The Ohio Health Department had confirmed 704 cases of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, and 10 deaths related to the illness. The diagnosed patients range in age from less than a year to 94, with a median age of 51. About 182 are hospitalized; 75 have been admitted to intensive care units.
ODH director Amy Acton cautioned Ohioans again that the numbers, which grow significantly each day, still do not represent the total number of cases in the state. They are “the tip of the iceberg,” and state resources such as the COVID-19 hotline need to be free to handle pressing health questions.
Likewise, Husted said, local police and health departments can take and investigate reports of businesses that have improperly remained open but cannot answer business owners’ questions about whether to close.
Husted encouraged owners to instead read Acton’s stay-at-home order, which is available in full online, and interpret it to the best of their ability.
If they decide to remain open, they should follow the order’s seven-step plan to make workplaces safe for their employees:
“Even when we begin to come out of this, we are still going to need you to create a safe work environment,” Husted said. “If you think this is just going to go on for two weeks and then you’re not going to have to create a safe work environment, that’s not the case. Safe work environment standards are going to last for a while as we come out of the situation that we’re in with the stay-at-home order and essential businesses.”
Businesses defined as “essential” under Acton’s order include those selling groceries and medicine; those that produce food, beverages and medicinal marijuana; animal shelters and rescues; those that provide food, shelter and social services for people in need of emergency assistance; media outlets such as WCPO; banks; hardware stores; laundromats; gas stations and funeral homes.