OH. Reopening More Businesses; Addressing Minority Impact & Outreach

by Josh Colletta

At a Thursday press conference, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted announced that several additional sectors of the economy will be allowed to reopen starting this week, according to the Swanton Enterprise.

Beginning tomorrow, May 26th, bowling alleys, batting cages, and miniature golf courses will be allowed to reopen as long as safety protocols can be met. This does not include any contact sports, as tournaments, games, and competitions for those sports are still prohibited.

Starting next Monday, June 1st, catering businesses and banquet halls can reopen as along as safety protocols can be met. There must be six feet between tables, no congregating, and crowds must be less than 300 people.

Some steps in the wrong direction, however, have prompted DeWine to assemble an enforcement team to ensure that bars and restaurants are operating safely. The governor had commented on pictures he has seen of crowds packed into a Columbus bar. He now says that the state received several troubling reports of multiple bars and restaurants not complying with social distancing rules.

DeWine said “We know that many Ohio bars and restaurants are working very hard to comply with the safety guidelines, and I want to comment them for doing that.” But, at the same time, the governor added, “We cannot allow the few bad actors to threaten the potential closure of other restaurants and bars.

The enforcement team will be part of the Department of Safety’s Ohio Investigative Unit and will conduct safety compliance checks in bars and restaurants. Those found in violation will receive administrative citations, possibly resulting in liquor licenses being revoked. The team will also work with municipal prosecutors in cases where criminal charges may be necessary, including situations in which patrons are not remaining seated while eating and/or drinking, and when parties are not staying six feet apart.

In other aspects of the pandemic, Governor DeWine announced the findings of the Minority Health Strike Force. As other groups nationwide have found, the novel coronavirus has had a disproportionately harsh impact on the African-American community in Ohio, which makes up 14% of the state’s population. Despite that, 26% of Ohio’s positive COVID-19 patients are black, as are 31% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 17% of COVID-19 deaths.

DeWine says “I am the Governor of all of Ohio, and when I see something disproportionately affecting some of our citizens, I have a responsibility to do something. To augment on the work that we are currently doing on health equity and to address the immediate threats posed by COVID-19 to out minority communities, we intend to move forward with the strike force’s recommendations, and we have several additional efforts that are ready to get underway.”

The preliminary report includes 18 recommendations for addressing the problem, and it’s available on the state’s coronavirus web site. The final recommendations are expected to be issued on June 11th.

Meanwhile, the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is teaming up with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to award $1 Million in grants for mental health and addiction services, targeting hard-to-reach individuals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Faith-based and local community-based organizations will use the funding to develop culturally-appropriate messages about mental health and addiction services specifically for those who may not be easily reached by mass-media efforts. Notable examples are racial and ethnic minorities, Appalachian and rural communities, and older adults, among others.