More facial coverings, continued social distancing and some more open-for-business signs are set to define the next phase of Ohio’s coronavirus response efforts, set to start May 1.
Gov. Mike DeWine rolled out his May plan for Ohio during the state’s daily briefing Monday, and while more workers will be heading to the factory, store or office, plenty of restrictions still remain in affect.
Hair salons and tattoo parlors remain off-limits due to the close contact nature of the services they provide. Restaurants and bars, too, are to stay closed with no set timeline for their returns, and the initial stay-at-home order limiting gatherings of more than 10 is set to continue.
But many workers will be going back to work as some restrictions relax. First, starting May 1, any health procedure that doesn’t require an overnight stay in a hospital is free to move forward, which should help some medical professionals bring in patients. The second wave of openings, starting May 4, will include manufacturers, distributors, construction, and office environments. The last announced softening of restrictions will allow retail workers to return to work on May 12 — as long as safety precautions are being undertaken.
As part of the re-opening guidelines, DeWine laid out five general state mandates for workers and their businesses.
One of those caused some controversy. On Monday it was announced if a business is operating, face masks will be mandatory for workers — as well as shoppers — during work hours. That was changed from mandatory to recommended on Tuesday.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said face coverings were a recommendation that came out of the business community.
“They want employees to come back. They want customers to come back, and they know the more comfort and confidence you can build amongst their workforce, the more business they’re going to have,” Husted said.
While the Center for Disease Control had recommended that individuals didn’t need a face mask initially in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, the federal agency has since reversed course.
During Monday’s briefing, state officials repeatedly pointed to face coverings as one of the tools Ohioans have to keep each other safe. While a a typical cloth face mask won’t protect the wearer, if two people each wear one, there’s a smaller chance of viral transmission between the two parties.
Other business protocols mandated to keep workers safe include being on the lookout for sick employees on a daily basis, keeping up good personal hygiene protocols, sanitizing workplaces, and trying to limit face-to-face interactions.
DeWine also provided a number of additional safety protocols for each industry sector scheduled for a May re-opening.
Prior to DeWine’s re-opening announcement, Ohio’s governor spoke positively about Ohio’s work toward “flattening the curve” of the viral spread. The latest case counts show a week of decreasing new cases in Ohio, but DeWine warned that residents need to maintain their vigilance. New outbreaks could occur.
As a result, the state is upgrading its testing and contact tracing capacities to be able to tamp down on potential new hot spots.
By the end of May, the state is expected to triple the amount of its daily COVID-19 tests, increasing the current state average, 7,228 cases a day, to 22,275 daily tests. Ohio is also looking to task 1,750 workers with keeping a close eye on any potential outbreaks through contact tracing. The Ohio Department of Health currently employs 685 health workers to perform the vital function.
“Some will say we shouldn’t have opened up at all. Some will say we didn’t open up enough. And I understand that,” DeWine said. “To the best of my ability, I think we found the sweet spot. I think we have found the spot that is most likely to cause less damage, more likely to cause good. But it’s a risk, and I fully understand the risk.”
Ohio is just one of many states across the nation slated for a May 1 staggered re-open, and many governors have been presenting their state’s plans to do so, creating a hodgepodge of guidelines that shift across state boundaries.
For example, Ohio’s northern neighbor, Michigan, has extended its stay-at-home order until May 15 while lifting some restriction on businesses that largely function out-of-doors, while Pennsylvania has opened up outdoor recreational spaces.
Outside of the re-opening dates already provided, DeWine did not provide much detail on when other industries are expected to be allowed to reopen. As the month of May progresses and restrictions are loosened, state officials said they will be paying particular attention to the data to inform future decisions in order to to avoid another outbreak and the possibility of returning to a stricter stay-at-home order.
“To each business person, we’ve been giving the best advice we can to businesses about how to do that, and I see them all … wanting to do that well, and it will take all of us doing this and walking this journey step-by-step together,” ODH Director Dr. Amy Acton said. “So I hope that we realize that this is a journey, and we’re on the next stage of it.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.