City hopes for compliance from restaurants and customers when indoor dining reopens Thursday

Posted at 3:23 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 02:13:26-04

CINCINNATI - Mayor John Cranley hopes for a smoother start to indoor dining Thursday than the city saw when outdoor dining reopened last week.

While bracing for many more bars and restaurants to reopen this week, Cranley acknowledged that the city doesn't have the manpower to police all of them and said he’s hoping owners and customers “will take responsibility for their behavior” and know and comply with state health orders and reopening requirements.

At his Monday COVID-19 briefing, Cranley said he had concerns last Saturday that police might have to issue citations after photos on social media showed violations of social distancing at “two or three bars” Friday night.

But Cranley said “overall we had great compliance” on Saturday, noting that no citations were issued once inspection teams with one police officer, health department sanitarians and officials from the city law department visited those establishments.

“I don’t think we got any complaints Saturday,” said the city’s environmental health director, Antonio Young. Young said he was on one of the two inspection teams and that teams visited “almost every” business that opened outdoor dining at The Banks and Over-the-Rhine.

“Everybody fell in line” with crowd controls after inspections teams visited, Young said.

Police Chief Eliot Isaac agreed.

“Some businesses just needed questions answered and guidance,” Isaac said.

To that end, Cranley said the city would hold a webinar at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to answer questions from bars and restaurants. Register here.

“Whenever you have a new program, somebody’s going to have questions about the process,” Cranley said.

Customer behavior is one thing bars and restaurants will have to learn to adjust to all over again, a spokesperson for The Banks said.

“How the consumer is going to behave is a wild card. It’s an unknown," said Tracy Schwegmann. "So for us to be able to adapt to consumer behavior is going to be important going forward ... as we adapt and learn from others and put in place best practices.”

Cranley defended the city’s approach of collaborating with businesses rather than punishing them with fines or worse.

“Our purpose is not to close businesses that are trying to survive but to help them survive,” the mayor said.

Earlier in the day, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced he would offer BCI and other law enforcement to areas of the state that need help enforcing the reopening orders. Cranley acknowleged that the city “doesn’t have sufficient manpower to thoroughly enforce” health orders at every business, but he said some parts of the state don’t have any resources for that at all.

Cranley said 90% of enforcement in Cincinnati will be “complaint driven.” He said there would not be “gotcha” enforcement by police.

“As we promised, we asked for compliance and we got it. But we have people ready to respond to complaints if necessary,” Cranley said.

Last week, Cranley said fines for bars and restaurants not enforcing state health laws would be $75 for the first offense and $150 for the second, up to $500. Asked Monday if customers are subject to fines, Cranley said, "I don't think it's our intention to fine" customers who aren't social distancing, but he said people might be fined for open container violations once they leave the business.

Cranley dismissed a reporter who asked if police resources could be better used combating the recent spike in shootings than riding shotgun on restaurant inspection teams.

"Two officers out of 1,040, I think, is not a disproportionate response," Cranley said.

In a statement Monday, the Ohio Restaurant Association said the "vast majority" of restaurants and bars met or exceeded requirements to restart outdoor dining.

“Like everyone, we are significantly concerned about limited reports of establishments in Ohio acting inconsistently with reopening guidelines set forth by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health orders," the statement read. "We believe these are isolated incidents and not reflective of our industry’s overall positive response to reopening safely. Governor DeWine and public health officials have put their confidence in us to do what is right, and we recognize that if we fail to meet those expectations, the opportunity to remain open may be taken away.

City Health Commissioner Melba Moore reported 38 COVID-19 deaths in the city and 23 new cases Monday, raising the city total to 880.

“We’re seeing an increase in the numbers,” Moore said, and she encouraged people to keep 6 feet apart and wear masks “when you go out and about.”

SEE the city’s latest COVID-19 numbers.