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Restaurant community pushes back against councilman's comments to close indoor eating, drinking

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Posted at 4:15 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 20:34:11-04

CINCINNATI — The city is bracing to see if Gov. Mike DeWine will restrict or close down indoor dining amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County.

One Cincinnati City Council member says that might need to happen to curb the virus, but some major players in the restaurant and bar industry are pushing back, saying there is not enough data available to support that claim.

Since March, Cincinnati has had 3,250 cases of COVID-19, 73 deaths and 401 hospitalizations. Cincinnati Health Department officials say hospitalizations and deaths are trending down. But that’s not the case in Hamilton County. COVID-19 numbers have surged in Hamilton County the past four weeks, with 1,021 new cases in just the past week. The new numbers include 52 hospitalizations and four deaths.

Epidemiologist Kim Wright, who oversees contact tracing in Cincinnati, said it is possible to pinpoint where COVID-19 outbreaks originate.

“That’s one of the questions our contact tracers are asking people when they interview positive cases,” Wright said.

Wright’s team monitors patients across the city and informs anyone they’ve been in contact with so they can get tested and self quarantine if necessary.

“We see things like birthday parties, baby showers, weddings, people that go to children’s softball games. Anything that would be a group of ten or more people … which would include lounges,” she said.

City Council Member Greg Landsman contends that lounges and bars seem to be the problem.

“Places that all have the same thing in common: Folks are in a small place, and there’s little to no air ventilation, and so people are just sitting in the same air for two to three hours,” Landsman said.

Landsman said he has seen the data that shows the majority of people the health department polled said they think they got COVID-19 from a bar or nightclub. The second most popular response was from a family or friend’s party.

Landsman said he is pushing for that data to be made public, but the Cincinnati Health Department has not yet released this data.

Britney Ruby Miller, CEO of Jeff Ruby Restaurants, said it is “reckless” for someone in a leadership position to make a generalized comment about bars and restaurants as it relates to the pandemic.

“I think you can’t put one blanketed comment over an entire industry,” she said. “Over their employees, over the community, it causes fear, so if he’s going to make comments like that, he’s empowered, he's able to do that, but he better show the data to back it up.”

Miller said there is not enough data to support that, and there are a lot of people in the industry taking the proper precautions.

“I’ve got a company to run and a business to keep afloat, but it’s important. And so if there are outliers, I would welcome the city getting involved and holding them accountable,” she said.

Landsman said the city has the option to restrict or shut down businesses.

“My hope is that if the governor does not act, that we will take action … there could be any number of options, one is get air circulating, open windows, open doors, lower the number of people inside, the time they can be inside,” he said.

Wright said the city sees about 70 new cases every day, and the city is currently monitoring about 700 COVID-19 cases.

“It’s what people are doing in their private lives that we need them to really be careful and avoid mass gatherings, avoid groups of ten or more people, whether that’s going to a bar or whether that’s attending a family reunion,” she said.