LIMA — Responsible Restart Ohio was launched Friday as a handful of businesses were allowed to open their doors under Gov. Mike DeWine’s gradual phase-in that is intended to restart the state’s economy while at the same time keep a watchful eye on health trends tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Allen County health, medical and business professions gathered Friday morning to remind the public that the day marked the end of the beginning — not the beginning of the end — in Ohio’s return to normalcy.
Under the plan unveiled earlier this week, dentists and veterinarians were permitted to open their doors on Friday and hospitals began performing some elective surgeries. Monday will see the reopening of manufacturing, distribution and construction firms, and on May 12 retail businesses reopen.
Allen County Health Commissioner Kathy Luhn kicked off a press conference Friday by strongly urging members of the public to continue social distancing and general health habits developed over the past month or more, even as more businesses open their doors.
“It’s important to realize that we’re all getting anxious for things to change, but COVID-19 is still here,” said Luhn.
With nearly two dozen deaths in Allen County already attributed to the virus, Luhn it is imperative that area residents “continue safe health practices and not go looking for loopholes” in the governor’s orders.
“We need to continue to limit gatherings to 10 people, continue to wash our hands often and to stay at home when possible. We need to think about others and protect the most vulnerable members of our community,” Luhn said.
Jed Metzger, president and chief executive officer of the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce, said business owners are clamoring to be allowed to reopen.
“Our small businesses — those with between one and 20 employees — have been severely impacted. They’re desperate, and we’re trying to do everything we can for them,” he said.
Business owners who are preparing to reopen are uncertain what to expect. “Will people be there when they reopen? That’s an unknown,” said the chamber executive.
Dr. Matt Owens, chief clinical officer at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center, echoed a sentiment voiced by all participants in Friday’s meeting when he said, “Saying we’re all in this together has never been more true for our communities. We’ve flattened the curve, but it’s not over. There’s going to be a new normal, and it starts today.”
Owens had words of thanks and praise for what he called an “unprecedented” partnership between the county’s health department and Lima’s two hospitals in attacking the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many patient and visitor restrictions remain in place at the hospitals, “we want to encourage you by saying that we believe our facilities are safe places for you to come for care,” Owens said.
“We’ve taken extraordinary measures to isolate COVID-19 and we will keep you as safe as possible. But we need your help. We can’t do this alone. Success is in our collective hands.”
Dr. Dennis Morris, vice president and chief medical officer at Lima Memorial Health System, said testing for the coronavirus was enhanced over the past week, “but we still do not have public screening available, and I don’t anticipate it to be available anytime soon. There simply are not enough supplies available.”
Morris said residents must be prepared for a long, slow recovery.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint. People are continuing to die from the coronavirus. With the support of the community we’ve done an unbelievable job of flattening the curve, but we can’t leave our guard down,” Morris said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”