COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday issued an appeal for Ohioans to stick together as the state slowly reopens, underscoring a point he has made multiple times in recent days: that it’s possible to restart the economy and keep people safe at the same time.
He said his message is embedded within the name of Friday’s new order extending the state shutdown until May 29, dubbed the “Stay Safe Ohio Order.”
“We can stay safe, we can protect each other, we can protect our most vulnerable, and at the same time get people back to work,” the Republican governor said.
While he laid out his reasoning, criticism is increasing from both sides of the debate over when to get back to normal.
Some argue he’s wrecking the economy by refusing to let all businesses open immediately, while others contend he’s risking lives by moving too fast.
DeWine said his job right now isn’t “a popularity contest” and he takes responsibility for the decisions being made.
“I’m calling it the best that I can,” he said.
DeWine spoke as Ohio COVID-19 deaths topped 1,000 for the first time, and also as dozens of protesters of Ohio’s stay-at-home orders returned to the Statehouse, pounding on windows and shouting.
“Reopen all Ohio businesses now” read one protester’s sign. State troopers in riot gear stood by.
DeWine’s announcement extending the stay-at-home order until May 29 — while also allowing retail stores to expand their business earlier than expected — seemed to confuse a number of Ohioans and stir up others who want stores to reopen immediately and their lives to return to normal.
Some posting on social media questioned how they could shop at retail stores without violating the latest order.
Republican state Rep. Nino Vitale, who is among the more than 30 GOP lawmakers calling for all businesses to reopen right away, blasted the latest order issued by the state health director.
“Now when you go to bed at night, you have NO IDEA what your rights will be when you get up in the morning,” he wrote on his Facebook page Friday.
Consistent with DeWine’s earlier announcements, health care offices were allowed to reopen Friday, followed by construction companies, distributors, manufacturers and offices on Monday, May 4.
Bars and movie theaters remain closed, along with in-person dining at restaurants.
Sporting events and concerts are still prohibited.
Multiple working groups are being formed to come up with the best and safest way to restart activities, including hair care, dining out, going to the gym, visiting libraries and participating in sporting events, DeWine said.
But it’s too early to talk about summer activities and specific dates when things are happening because of the changing nature of the virus, the governor said.
Friday’s 14-page directive from Health Director Dr. Amy Acton says currently closed retail establishments can begin offering curbside pickup or delivery on Saturday.
In addition, stores that restrict operations to 10 customers on an “appointment-only” basis can reopen Saturday.
The measure is an effort to put retailers on par with restaurants and their ability to do carryout, and to address smaller businesses’s frustration that big box stores have been open throughout the pandemic, often selling the same products, from TVs to mattresses, said Roger Geiger, president of the National Federation of Independent Business Ohio chapter.
The goal of the order was “to get these small guys open because they are truly fighting for their survival,” Geiger said Friday.
DeWine had said all week that retail businesses could not reopen until May 12.
Masks are mandatory for employees returning to reopened businesses and strongly recommended for customers and clients under the Ohio order.
Businesses have the authority to require customers to wear masks, and some — like Costco — have already done so.
Geiger’s clothing and sporting goods stores in the Cleveland area will stick with their plans to open May 12, mainly so that they can have their staff ready, said Chas Geiger, a co-owner, and no relation to Roger Geiger.
All employees will be wearing masks, he said, and they’ll strongly encourage customers to do so as well.
“A lot of what we’re thinking about is the confidence of our customers to come back,” he said.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Ohio:
The state has 1,002 presumptive or confirmed virus-related deaths, and more than 18,700 cases, including more than 3,600 hospitalizations, the state health department reported Friday.
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.
Kroger opened its first Columbus drive-thru site for coronavirus testing on Thursday, with capacity for 330 tests a day, and planned to open another in Cincinnati on Friday. The company previously added Ohio sites in Toledo, Bowling Green and suburban Dayton, along with Detroit and Denver.
Two prison employees and 31 Ohio prison inmates have died from COVID-19, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
More than 4,000 inmates have tested positive, but the prisons agency has only conducted universal testing at three facilities to date, meaning the actual number of positive cases is unknown.