Editorial: Ohioans Receive Mixed Messages About Re-Opening
TL;DR version: Parents should go back to work but no one can watch your kids, and stores can reopen but customers should stay home.
Many Americans have grown anxious about “getting back to normal” despite warnings that the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus could accelerate once again if social distancing and other guidelines are relaxed too quickly.
Ohio was one of the states to lead the call for drastic safety precautions much earlier than many others across the nation. A state of emergency was formally declared on March 10, followed by the closure of all schools on March 12 and the closure of bars and restaurants on March 15. We have sheltered in place under “Stay at Home” orders since March 23, which feels like an eternity ago.
While those tough decisions have taken a toll on the state’s economy — over one million Ohioans have filed for unemployment as of May 1 — the rates of infection and death have both been lower as a result. Ohio is the seventh largest state by population with over 11 million residents, but we currently rank 17th for total deaths per capita and 26th for total cases per capita.
These numbers seem to indicate that Ohio has done a pretty good job of managing this health crisis so far, but that doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods just yet. Columbus was named a “location to watch” for new infections on Monday, following a spike last weekend in new hospitalizations and deaths reported.
So, what exactly should Ohioans be doing right now? Staying at home, or re-opening the economy?
The answer is a confusing mix of both.
On April 27, state leaders announced the first phase of the state’s re-opening plans, first allowing office workers and manufacturers back to their jobs on May 1. That plan also included a mandate for all customers and clients of businesses to wear face masks, although a quick reversal was made the very next day stating that the requirement would only apply to workers and that customers were not mandated (but highly recommended) to wear masks.
On May 1, state leaders announced that the “Stay at Home” restrictions would remain in place through May 29. The same announcement outlined a plan for retailers to re-open on May 12, even though customers were being strongly advised to stay at home through the end of the month.
On May 7, state leaders announced that restaurants and bars could reopen their patios on May 15 and indoor areas on May 21 as long as they followed social distancing guidelines and sanitization practices. But the stay at home order for customers remains in place through the end of the month, recommending that customers stay away from these re-opened businesses.
Meanwhile, Ohio has yet to re-open grade schools or daycare businesses, which means that working parents have no reprieve for childcare or education even as their employers are expecting their return to normal hours. (Update 5/14 5:15pm — A plan to re-open daycare businesses on May 31 was announced just a few hours after this editorial was published)
The same state leaders that are moving forward with these re-opening plans have said that they fully expect a new surge of infections as the economy begins to re-open. Dr. Anthony Fauci made similar comments this week, noting that re-opening too soon would trigger another outbreak. While the ability of these leaders to speak the truth is welcomed, their actions are moving the public closer to the crisis rather than away from it.
Ohioans have been kept safer than the average American during this pandemic, but that work will quickly come unraveled in the coming weeks if we don’t continue to take rational and precautionary measures.