DeWine: New enforcement unit will monitor crowded bars and restaurants

Posted at 1:59 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-18 22:29:53-04

After photos and videos depicting overcrowding and a lack of social distancing in Cincinnati and Columbus bars circulated online and on social media during the first weekend the businesses were allowed to open, Governor DeWine has announced he is creating a new enforcement unit to monitor social distance protocols.

"I want to make it very clear, at least as far as we could tell, the majority of restaurants were doing a great job, most of the bars were doing a decent job, but there were some outliers and this jeopardizes, frankly, our ability to move forward as a state," said DeWine during his Monday afternoon press conference.

The enforcement unit, to be called the Ohio Investigative Unit (OIU), will be comprised of law enforcement and health officials from both state and local agencies throughout Ohio.

The OIU will travel to bars and restaurants throughout the state and perform safety compliance checks on crowded bars and restaurants, DeWine said.

If a business is found to not be in compliance with rules, the OIU will be able to issue administrative citations that can, possibly, result in a business losing its liquor license.

DeWine also said the unit will work with local prosecutors to take possible criminal actions against establishments that continue to violate rules his team set down as criteria for reopening.

Lt. Gov. Husted specifically stressed that all patrons, whether at a bar or restaurant, must be seated while they're there. Bars cannot have congregate spaces with large groups standing around together. Groups seated together cannot be comprised of more than 10 people, and tables must be spaced at least six feet apart, he said.

"If you can't do this as a business owner -- because you're accountable, not your patrons, and yes, we expect them to be too -- but ultimately, you're accountable for this and if you cannot do it, then you cannot open," said Husted.

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."