Editor’s note: The local COVID-19 case count was adjusted down from 15 on Thursday to 14 on Friday, according to numbers from the Champaign Health District. There has been 1 local death.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Retail businesses can open up under certain conditions beginning today, almost two weeks earlier than previously stated, according to a surprise condition in Ohio’s latest “stay safe” order issued Friday. The “stay safe” order replaces and softens the “stay-at-home” orders that had been in place throughout April and part of March.
The 14-page directive from Health Director Dr. Amy Acton says currently closed retail establishments can begin offering curbside pickup or delivery today. In addition, stores that restrict operations to 10 customers on an “appointment-only” basis can reopen today.
The measure is an effort to put retailers on par with restaurants and their ability to do carryout, and to address smaller businesses’s frustration that big box stores have been open throughout the pandemic, often selling the same products, from TVs to mattresses, said Roger Geiger, president of the National Federation of Independent Business Ohio chapter.
The goal of the order was “to get these small guys open because they are truly fighting for their survival,” Geiger said Friday.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine had said all week that retail businesses could not reopen until May 12.
Consistent with DeWine’s earlier announcements, health care offices were allowed to reopen Friday, followed by construction companies, distributors, manufacturers and offices on Monday, May 4. Bars and movie theaters remain closed, along with in-person dining at restaurants. Sporting events and concerts are still prohibited.
Multiple working groups are being formed to come up with the best and safest way to restart activities, including hair care, dining out, going to the gym, visiting libraries and participating in sporting events, DeWine said.
Friday’s order extends the state shutdown until May 29, except for the exceptions already outlined. DeWine said the name of the directive, “Stay Safe Ohio Order,” underscores the move toward reopening the state while taking precautions.
“We can stay safe, we can protect each other, we can protect our most vulnerable, and at the same time get people back to work,” DeWine said Friday.
Masks are mandatory for employees returning to reopened businesses and strongly recommended for customers and clients under the Ohio order. Businesses have the authority to require customers to wear masks, and some — like Costco — have already done so.
Geiger’s clothing and sporting goods stores in the Cleveland area will stick with their plans to open May 12, mainly so that they can have their staff ready, said Chas Geiger, a co-owner, and no relation to Roger Geiger.
All employees will be wearing masks, he said, and they’ll strongly encourage customers to do so as well.
“A lot of what we’re thinking about is the confidence of our customers to come back,” he said.
The announcement extending the stay-at-home order seemed to confuse a number of Ohioans and stir up others who want stores to reopen immediately and their lives to return to normal. Some posting on social media questioned how they could shop at retail stores without violating the latest order.
Protesters of the stay-at-home orders returned to the Statehouse on Friday, pounding on windows and shouting. “Reopen all Ohio businesses now” read one protester’s sign. Ohio state troopers in riot gear stood by.
Republican state Rep. Nino Vitale of Urbana, who’s among the more than 30 GOP lawmakers calling for all businesses to reopen right away, blasted the latest order issued by the health director.
“Now when you go to bed at night, you have NO IDEA what your rights will be when you get up in the morning,” Vitale wrote on his Facebook page Friday.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Ohio:
The state has 1,002 presumptive or confirmed virus-related deaths, and more than 18,700 cases, including more than 3,600 hospitalizations, the state health department reported Friday. Daily cases reported Friday outpaced the 5-day average with 716 cases to 556. Daily hospitalizations reported Friday outpaced the 5-day average, 101-91. Daily death counts reported on Friday were lower than the 5-day average, with 27 daily cases to 55 in the trend.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Kroger opened its first Columbus drive-thru site for coronavirus testing on Thursday, with capacity for 330 tests a day, and planned to open another in Cincinnati on Friday. The company previously added Ohio sites in Toledo, Bowling Green and suburban Dayton, along with Detroit and Denver.
Two prison employees and 28 Ohio prison inmates have died from COVID-19, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Nearly 4,000 inmates have tested positive, but the prisons agency has only conducted universal testing at three facilities to date, meaning the actual number of positive cases is unknown.