Ohio bars and restaurants finally got to let customers back inside their businesses Thursday, more than two months after closing to limit the spread of coronavirus.
The reopening came six days after restrictions lifted on patios, which led to some viral images of packed outdoor areas with limited or no social distancing. Gov. Mike DeWine announced that health officials and law enforcement will be enforcing those safety guidelines, and establishments could lose their liquor licenses or face criminal charges if they don’t comply.
Columbus Public Health conducted 243 investigations Thursday afternoon and evening. Some were based on complaints and some were based on the risk level of the establishments.
“We did issue five warning letters," says city health commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts. “These were establishments where we found gross violations of the order after we had provided some education.”
That’s a 97% compliance rate, Roberts points out.
“Most food service establishments are complying, they’re doing the right thing to keep our community healthy and safe,” she says.
Roberts says enforcement starts with education. After finding problems with social distancing or cleanliness requirements, her team will point out what needs remedied.
“If they can remedy it right there on the spot, which most of the time, then that’s it, we’ll walk away and we’ll say, ‘We’ll see you later,'” she says.
On the second visit, if the restaurant still hasn't complied with the order, health officials will write an official warning letter. On the third, they will either issue another warning letter or send along the evidence to the City Attorney’s Office to proceed from there.
Roberts says the process is different from a health inspector enforcing food code.
“When there are obvious food code violations, we can immediately shut someone down,” she says.
But the directives from the DeWine administration are different, Roberts says.
“If we find the establishment in violation of these orders, we do not have the authority at this point in time to shut them down,” Roberts says.