Update: City Officials Propose 10pm Closing Time for Bars, Nightclubs and Restaurants
Update 7/27: Columbus City Council passes ordinance to restrict restaurant, bar and nightclub hours, now set to close at 10 p.m.
Update 7/28, 1 p.m.: A number of local businesses, including 16-Bit, Pins Mechanical Co., Late Night Slice and over two dozen others, have filed a lawsuit against the City of Columbus.
Update: 7/28, 5 p.m.: Judge Rules in Favor of Bars, OSU Football Announces Plans & More
City officials announced on Friday, July 24, a new public health order to place restrictions on the hours of operations for bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
On Monday, the proposed restriction changed to 10 p.m. each evening starting Tuesday, July 28 for applicable businesses, and that evening the accompanying legislation was passed by Columbus City Council unanimously.
The decision from Columbus Public Health and Mayor Andrew Ginther comes as recent data shows an increase in diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and increased positivity test rate indicating community spread.
Last week, the White House Coronavirus Task Force went as far as to suggest Ohio’s bars close to stop the spread. Officials called the move to close bars and restaurants early a “middle of the road” approach.
Current public health orders allow patrons to forgo face coverings for extended periods of time while seated at bars and tables and eating and drinking. The reduction of times of operation for bars, nightclubs and restaurants can limit exposure, said officials.
“Our city like many others across the country are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, and there is clear evidence of community spread – especially indoors in places where groups are gathering,” said Mayor Ginther in a press release. “We’re also seeing a clear increase among younger people, and we know that bars and nightclubs have been the source of outbreaks locally. We need to take steps now to help stop the spread of the virus.”
“Shortening the time that people gather in groups will help reduce the risk not only to those who participate, but the entire community,” said Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts. “This reduction – along with face coverings, social distancing and hand washing – will help protect health and save lives.”
The new health order does not limit the capacity of bars and restaurants so long as social distancing and other mandated health precautions are maintained and does not impact outdoor dining or carryout operations.
Columbus Public Health will enforce the new order which will include a warning for the first violation, a fine of $500 for a second violation and $1,000 for subsequent offenses. Repeat violations may subject owners and/or operators to injunctive action to close the establishment.
Since Friday, local business owners have responded in opposition to the proposal, with some calling on the public to contact members of City Council regarding Monday’s vote.
“While I am supportive of doing everything possible to stop the spread…closing us down early will not help, it will hurt the restaurant industry even more,” said Scott Heimlich, owner of Barcelona, in a social media post. “Restaurants in particular have been very diligent to follow the State of Ohio re-opening guidelines.”
“We’ve jumped over every single hurdle the city and state has put in front of us and have done even more than has been asked of us and we’re ok with that because we want everyone to be as safe as possible,” wrote North Campus dive bar Threes Above High in a Facebook post. “However, forcing bars to limit its opportunity to make money and attempting to put the blame all on us, is nothing more than a bully tactic and lazy leadership.”
Meanwhile, Zoup! Eatery owner and operator Tom Dailey mentioned online that a temporary outdoor dining expansion would be a more “common sense” solution being done in other cities.
“Agreeing to temporary outdoor dining expansion would actually improve health and safety,” he said. “This administration has done nothing to help small businesses during this crisis… in fact, quite the opposite. Wake up and start focusing on things that make a difference rather than wallowing in senseless bureaucracy that harms business and doesn’t do anything to promote public health.”
On Monday, Dr. Roberts responded to opponents of the move saying the restaurant and bar industry was being singled out, by emphasizing that the decision was not made because of business owners and rather it is “human behavior” that is the issue.
In a lawsuit filed by Columbus businesses, Threes Above High and Fours on High joined 16-Bit, Pins Mechanical Co., Late Night Slice and others in a lawsuit against the City of Columbus, Mayor Ginther, Columbus Public Health and Dr. Roberts.
The lawsuit asks the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to enact a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of the ordinance, as well as compensatory damages.