OTTAWA — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday laid the preliminary groundwork for employees in business and industry to begin a gradual return to the workplace, with certain conditions attached. A group of Putnam County business professionals on Tuesday got a primer in what those conditions entail.
The Ottawa Chamber of Commerce and the Putnam County Community Improvement Corp., in conjunction with county health officials, hosted a meeting via Zoom on Tuesday to assist local businesses as they navigate the guidelines mandated by the governor.
Putnam County Health Commissioner Kim Rieman and Brandi Shrader, the department’s director of environmental health, served as facilitators for the meeting that had several dozen business owners tuned in. Speaking less than 24 hours after DeWine had first announced his plan for reopening the state, Rieman said questions still outnumber answers on several fronts.
Beginning Monday, manufacturing, distribution, general office and construction businesses may reopen their doors, if mandatory safety requirements for customers and employees are met. Beginning May 12 consumer, retail and services will be allowed to reopen, contingent upon those same safety requirements.
Rieman on Tuesday addressed “protocols that all businesses must abide by” to comply with the governor’s orders. Chief among those was masks for customers and employees.
While it was initially reported that masks would be required for all customers in business and retail establishments, “the Ohio Department of Health now says that masks for customers and clients may be just a recommendation,” Rieman said Tuesday.
Later in the day Tuesday, DeWine relaxed policy on masks and announced they’re not mandatory for employees or customers, but he highly recommends them.
Many of the questions from the Putnam County business owners revolved around masks. Shrader said cloth masks are acceptable, and masks are required to be provided by the workplace. For employees who work in private offices or secluded work spaces that are more than six feet apart, “it’s probably okay not to wear (masks) all day, but they should be worn when employees go into public areas,” she said.
A mandate contained in the governor’s plan that requires daily health assessments — including the taking of temperatures — of all employees was equally unclear.
“The ODH says employers are responsible for the health assessments, but there’s been some question as to whether the employees can do it on their own,” said Rieman. “There’s confusion on this and more information will be supplied to you as it becomes available.”
The health commissioner also noted that when a case of COVID-19 is identified, either in an employee or a customer, the business will be ordered to close for a deep cleaning and will re-open only in consultation with the health department.
As a final warning, Rieman told business owners to expect some backlash from the public upon re-opening their doors.
“There are some people who are going to complain about your business opening. If we get a complaint, we will follow up,” Rieman said. “Just know that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
The general safe business practices that all businesses must follow as they reopen include maintaining good hygiene at all times such as hand washing and social distancing and cleaning and sanitizing workplaces throughout the day and at the close of business or between shifts.
One local business owner urged his colleagues not to delay in purchasing the necessary cleaning supplies, as they could be hard to find.
Shrader said cleaning products should be bleach-based or chlorine-based. A mixture of 1/3 cup bleach mixed with 1 gallon water makes an efficient cleanser, she said.
Putnam County Commissioner Mike Lammers asked health officials if a planned May 7 Day of Prayer would be allowed if social distancing in an outdoor setting could be assured.
“I’m thinking that would be frowned upon, but I’ll look into it,” Shrader said.