Industry leaders question Governor’s threat of restaurant, bar, gym shutdown if COVID spike continues

Restaurants, bars and gyms could find out next Thursday whether they will be allowed to continue operating with COVID-19 restrictions in place…or whether they will have to completely or partially shut down again.

In a rare dinnertime statewide address Wednesday evening, Gov. Mike DeWine said if the “current trend continues and cases keep increasing,” Ohio will be “forced” to close restaurants, bars and fitness centers, vowing to “look at this” on Thursday, Nov. 19.

“I’m very well aware of the burden this will place on employees. I’m very well aware of the burden this places on owners,” DeWine said. “But these are places, candidly, where it’s difficult or impossible to maintain mask-wearing.”

This would be the second time these industries have faced a complete or partial shutdown. Between mid-March and late May, restaurants were only allowed to operate carry-out business. That led to layoffs and financial struggles for owners – which continued long after establishments were allowed to re-open at capacities suitable for social distancing: poll numbers from the Ohio Restaurant Association have routinely showed a majority of owners not expecting to break even in 2020, with at least half not expecting they would be able to stay open nine more months at the current rate. And that was before DeWine raised the possibility of another shutdown.

The Ohio Restaurant Association swiftly questioned any discussion over a shutdown, saying in a statement Wednesday night it “is inconsistent with any science or contact tracing data that we have been provided, which continues to detail the greatest risk of transmission is occurring in private gatherings.”

The news is also cause for concerns at area restaurants.

“It’s obviously disappointing,” said Cameron Shade, Miamisburg General Manager of TJ Chumps. Shade cited layoffs and financial difficulties when restaurants had to close earlier this year – despite a robust carryout and delivery service.

“It’s just not sustainable for us to do that,” he said. “It puts a lot of our bartenders, servers out of a job.”

DeWine did not provide specifics during his Wednesday address on what a closure this time around would mean – whether carryout service would be allowed, as it was in the spring. He also did not detail what threshold in the COVID-19 metrics would be sufficient to avoid closures.

We expect to learn more when Gov. DeWine holds his anticipated, regular 2pm Thursday COVID-19 news conference.