COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s first steps toward reopening the state after more than a month of strict stay-at-home orders will require masks for workers and shoppers, while giving hope for businesses eager to open their doors again and indefinitely putting off Ohioans’ return to restaurants, barbershops and gyms.
The much anticipated return to normalcy will happen slowly, with the reopening of many health care offices on Friday. Retail stores will need to wait two weeks before they can open, DeWine said Monday.
Masks will become standard for the foreseeable future, whether at the office, grocery or on the assembly line.
“No masks, no work, no service, no exception,” DeWine said.
The governor acknowledged he was walking a fine line by trying to revive the state’s economy at a time when he says the virus is still much a threat. But there are positive signs he pointed to while making a case for the gradual reopening — the number of people testing positive, being hospitalized and dying has been on the decline the past five days, according to the state’s health statistics.
“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,” he said. “I think we found the spot that is most likely to cause less damage, more likely to cause good. It’s a risk, and I fully understand.”
The governor said he considered but rejected the idea of allowing parts of the state with fewer cases to open up further, saying it didn’t make sense to create a patchwork of decisions by Ohio’s 113 public health agencies.
Nonessential surgeries and other medical procedures that don’t require an overnight hospital stay can begin again in Ohio starting Friday, along with dental and veterinarian practices.
Manufacturing, distribution and construction companies can begin operations May 4, along with offices, although DeWine urged companies to continue to have employees work from home as much as possible.
DeWine said retail businesses can begin to reopen May 12 as long as employees and customers wear masks, and other safety practices are followed, such as sanitation and social distancing.
The governor called his plan a “good beginning” made possible by Ohioans’ efforts so far, and which will be aided by ramped-up testing and disease-tracing efforts.
“We’ve gotten this far — but we have a ways to go,” DeWine said. “These are the first steps.” He said a total reopening May 1 would be irresponsible, given that the virus is still out there “killing people.”
Day cares, gyms, swimming pools, and movie theaters are among those businesses that will stay closed. The reopening of restaurants and businesses like barbershops won’t happen for a few weeks and will be aided by what is learned over the next few weeks, the governor said.
Brenda Kocak, who owns a men’s hair salon in suburban Columbus, was hoping to hear that she could reopen soon after spending weeks watching safety seminars and buying face masks, capes and surface cleaners.
“It just makes no sense,” she said. “How can it be more safe to go into a dentist’s office and get your mouth cleaned than it is to go to a salon and get a haircut?”
Kocak, who has owned Modern Male Spas in Dublin, said she can’t afford to stay closed much longer.
The Ohio Restaurant Association also pushed back, urging the governor to allow restaurants to begin offering socially distanced dine-in service by May 15.
Half of the state’s residents want to see Ohio’s economy get a jump-start this week, but their support waned when asked about opening specific businesses and churches, a new poll found.
Only about one-third of the Ohioans surveyed were ready for salons, churches and restaurants to open. And even less thought playgrounds and day cares should open this week, according to the poll conducted last week by Baldwin Wallace University.
Many of the Republicans who hold a majority in the Ohio House are pushing for allowing all businesses to reopen by Friday.
Their plan released on Monday and backed by more than half of the GOP House members said they think all businesses are essential and that many have made changes to protect employees and customers.
But Democrats in the House said the state is not ready because there’s not enough testing or tracking of people who have been near someone who was infected.
“Without that information, we are operating blindly and making ourselves susceptible to a second surge,” said Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top Democrat in the House.
In other coronavirus-related developments:
The state has 753 confirmed and probable deaths associated with the coronavirus to date and more than 16,000 positive tests, including more than 3,200 hospitalizations, Ohio health officials reported Monday.
Most Ohio coroners are collecting extra blood samples from autopsies to go back and test for antibodies to better determine how many Ohioans were exposed to the coronavirus, Dr. Kent Harshbarger, Montgomery County coroner, told The Columbus Dispatch.
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.
The state said Tina Reeves, 58, a nurse at Pickaway Correctional Institution in central Oho, died of COVID-19 on Sunday, the second Department of Rehabilitation and Correctional employee killed by the coronavirus. Nineteen Ohio prison inmates have also died from COVID-19, according to the state prisons agency. More than 2,000 inmates out of about 2,500 at Marion Correctional Institution have tested positive to date, while more than 1,500 of about 2,000 have tested positive at Pickaway Correctional Institution, where 13 of the inmates who died were housed.
Cincinnati-based grocery chain Kroger Co. is expanding free drive-thru testing for health care workers, first responders and people with COVID-19 symptoms. The company said Monday it has added Ohio sites in Toledo and Dayton, along with Detroit and Denver.
Seewer reported from Toledo and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.