Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday asked for public confidence in his plan to ease restrictions on businesses as the state recorded its thousandth probable COVID-19 death Friday.
At times seeming to address opponents of his gradual approach, DeWine said his administration sought to balance public safety with restarting economic activity.
“We can do two things at once,” DeWine said. “We can do it. We can stay safe, we can protect each other, we can protect our most vulnerable and at the same time move our business back and get people back to work.”
The state death toll now stands at 1,002, with 18,743 total COVID-19 cases. Ohio hospitals have treated 3,634 coronavirus patients to date, admitting 1,056 patients to intensive care units.
Ohio will permit offices to reopen Monday, although many employers will continue allowing staff to work from home. Retailers may open for in-store businesses May 12. Restaurants and bars remain closed for dine-in customers.
DeWine’s handling of the pandemic has received broad approval from Ohioans, including nearly 89 percent support for his stay-at-home order in one poll. Despite the high public approval ratings for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, the Republican governor has begun to face pressure from protesters and even his own party to reopen the state faster.
Some criticism has singled out Health Director Dr. Amy Acton. DeWine defended Acton on Friday, saying that the buck stops with him.
“Don’t call them her orders,” he said. “Call them my orders.”
On April 30, the DeWine administration issued a new order, dubbed the “Stay Safe Ohio Order,” outlining rules for businesses as they reopen. Companies must keep employees and customers at least 6 feet apart. Employees, with some exceptions, must wear face masks.
DeWine backtracked earlier this week after saying that customers would also have to wear face coverings. At Friday’s news conference, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted defended the practice of wearing masks, while acknowledging that he finds them uncomfortable himself.
“I don’t enjoy wearing a mask. I know most of you don’t enjoy wearing a mask. But I’m going to wear a mask,” Husted said. “Not just because of the order, but because there are a lot of people in my life that I care about who are vulnerable.”
DeWine said his administration was consulting with a wide array of industry experts on the next steps forward for the state. Task forces are examining reopening procedures for libraries, barbershops and salons, restaurants, the travel industry and other businesses, he said.