Gov. Mike DeWine is pictured during his statewide address on Wednesday, Nov. 11. Photo courtesy Ohio Channel.
Desperate to slow the spread of coronavirus, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced a new curfew intended to decrease person-to-person contacts and new infections.
The move was greeted with skepticism in some quarters.
DeWine said that starting at 10 p.m. on Thursday, there will be a 21-day statewide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Bars, restaurants and retail stores will have to close. But there will be exceptions for pharmacies, grocery stores, food delivery, drive-through and pickup service.
Technically, people who violate the curfew could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by 90 days in jail and a $750 fine. But as he has with other covid-related health orders, DeWine said he he’s not eager to see people charged.
“We do not expect law enforcement to go pull people over because they’re out beyond 10 o’clock,” he said. “But if they’re seeing something going on, this is a way they can walk up and say, ‘Hey guys, you’re here… there’s a curfew. Why don’t you just go home?’”
The governor added, “No one’s been charged under these health orders,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they couldn’t be, but they haven’t so far.”
The curfew comes as Ohio experiences its most alarming spike in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic early this year.
On Tuesday, state health authorities reported 7,079 new cases over the past 24 hours, a 36% increase over the 21-day average. They also reported 368 new coronavirus hospitalizations, only a little less than the state record of 386 set on Nov. 10.
The swelling numbers have placed Ohio hospital staffs in a “precarious situation,” said Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health. He said medical workers are fatigued from fighting the disease since March and they have to balance that work with living in communities and with families where the virus is increasingly prevalent.
DeWine said his goal was to reduce the number of person-to-person contacts and thereby stop the virus from spreading. He asked Ohioans to voluntarily do that through such measures as condensing the number of trips they make to the grocery and buying more when they do. At the same time, he urged people to do what they can to remotely maintain emotional connections.
However, critics noted that the curfew doesn’t go as far as one imposed in the spring. For example, the earlier order imposed limits on how many people can be in stores when they’re open.
Asked what scientific basis he used in issuing the order, DeWine said, “We know the basic science. The basic science is fewer contacts, less spread.”
The likely effectiveness of the curfew was disputed by at least one scientist in the field. Kent State epidemiologist Tara C. Smith tweeted that she didn’t know any professionals who thought it would work.
DeWine, however, might have felt the curfew was as far as he could go. It had the support of the Ohio Restaurant Association, likely meaning that there was some negotiation behind it.
Also, DeWine is a member of a party led by president who in October visited Circleville and said the media were hyping the virus to hurt his reelection chances. The president predicted the media would stop covering coronavirus on Nov. 4 — the day after the election.
Covid skepticism runs so deep in elements of the Republican Party that at the same time that DeWine was announcing the curfew, Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, was testifying in favor of his bill to repeal an earlier health order requiring bars to stop serving at 10 p.m.
For his part, DeWine said he hopes the curfew will “push more people toward home.”
“I think if we do these things it gives us a shot at slowing (the coronavirus) down,” the governor said. “Most of what we’re doing and the decisions I’m making are between two bad choices.”
Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.