COLUMBUS, Ohio — Testing is up, but not at the levels state health officials would like. Over 1,000 Ohioans have died of the novel coronavirus; over 20,000 have been positively diagnosed.
Still, starting May 15, the state of Ohio will take what Gov. Mike DeWine described as a “calculated risk” in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic: Reopening hair salons, bars and restaurants.
Minutes after he made the announcement in his Thursday news briefing, DeWine acknowledged the move could have dire consequences if Ohioans become careless. Social distancing should continue, he said. So should the wearing of masks and the frequent washing of hands.
“This is high-risk,” DeWine acknowledged. “This is a high-risk operation, but it would be high-risk if we didn’t do anything. … Whatever we do is a risk. What I ask you to do in your individual lives and then collectively, since you have such an impact on everybody else, (is) make those calculated risks. Make those good judgments.”
The state expects its COVID-19 numbers to rise no matter what, he added. At the time he spoke, Ohio had diagnosed 22,131 cases of the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. At least 1,271 had died.
“We can expect that the opening up of this economy is going to take those higher,” he said. “What we have to do is do everything in our power not to let those go very high.”
And so, per the recommendation of two working groups representing the beauty and foodservice industries, Ohio salons will open to customers, and restaurants will be able to serve customers in outside seating areas starting May 15.
On May 21, dine-in service at restaurants and bars can legally resume.
Restaurants and bars that reopen must space tables six feet apart or separate them with a physical barrier, working group head Treva Weaver said. Patrons waiting to be seated will wait in their cars or in socially distanced queues. No parties of over 10 people will be accepted, and empty “congregate spaces” such as dance floors will be repurposed as additional seating space.
Debbie Penzone, who led the beauty industry’s working group, said salons and barber shops will follow some of the same guidelines: Customers must wait outside in their cars before an appointment; when their appointment arrives, they must enter the building alone unless they are a parent accompanying a child or a caregiver accompanying a dependent adult.
Salon employees must wear masks, and individual business owners can require that customers do, too.
Reopening these and other businesses “is a gamble,” DeWine acknowledged. “This is a new part of the journey. We are on a road that’s never been traveled before, certainly never been traveled before in Ohio. It is a road that has danger signs on it.”
He continued to caution people over 60 against venturing into densely populated spaces, including the businesses that will be allowed to reopen in May.
“There is not a state and there is not a country that is not struggling with these decisions,” said Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton. “We will take these steps as cautiously as we can. We will watch the data very, very carefully.”