LIMA — Can a 21-day curfew slow the rate of new coronavirus infections before Ohio hospitals are overwhelmed? Or will Ohio find itself on the brink of a second stay-at-home order weeks before Christmas and the end of emergency safety net programs?
Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to impose a 10 p.m. curfew starting Thursday was welcome news for the hospitality industry, which feared a targeted shutdown of bars, restaurants and gyms would upend the livelihoods of small business owners and hospitality workers with no guarantee of federal aid or enhanced unemployment.
But for public health experts, the decision was confusing.
Ohio already had a curfew for bars and liquor establishments, said Dr. Tara Smith, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor for Kent State University, who has seen little evidence to support the curfew.
“I’m not sure who this is targeted for and why they thought this should be the next intervention to go to,” Smith said.
DeWine is following the lead of other states that have turned to curfews in lieu of stay-at-home orders or targeted shutdowns of high-risk activities as governors try to balance the needs of an ailing economy with those of a worsening pandemic that threatens the stability of hospitals nationwide.
“The theory behind it seems to be that they’re trying to prevent congregation at certain venues that serve alcohol later at night,” said Dr. Brian Fink, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Toledo.
But Smith said with 7,000 to 8,000 new coronavirus cases each day in Ohio, there isn’t much time to bring transmission down.
A targeted lockdown of high-risk venues could help the state avoid a worst-case-scenario in which hospitals start turning away patients because there are not enough beds or nurses, Smith said. Financial assistance for businesses and workers is essential to that approach.
“We need funds to compensate these people because that’s one of the reasons that we’re keeping everything open,” she said. “We don’t want people to lose their jobs. We don’t want people to lose their business. But if we had a stop-gap for that, if we had money where we could provide some of these places compensation for a short time, I think that would be less of an issue.”
Ohio hospitals are already contending with staffing shortages that could jeopardize their ability to perform routine care if the share of seriously ill coronavirus patients keeps rising.
But without a new federal relief bill, there’s no guarantee that businesses will survive a second shutdown. And emergency safety nets like the eviction moratorium and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for tipped and low-wage workers are set to expire at the end of the year.
The prospect worried Tausha Muniz as she waited to see whether DeWine would issue a second bar shutdown.
“If he thinks shutting bars down is going to get people to stop gathering, it’s going to make it worse,” Muniz said on Monday. “Everyone knows the afterparties are happening at people’s houses, and it just makes it worse.”
Muniz opened her latest bar, Zinum 12, in downtown Lima roughly six months before indoor dining was shut down in March.
It was an expensive undertaking for Muniz, who used her savings to buy the High Street property so she could take part in downtown Lima’s revival. The combination of the spring’s stay-at-home order, capacity restrictions and curfew has complicated that endeavor.
Muniz, who also owns the Landing Strip and previously owned 12 East, was too late to qualify for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. She’s now waiting to see whether she will benefit from another grant program to help cover the cost of her liquor licenses.
“People say that they want to support their local businesses, but it doesn’t always happen that way,” Muniz said. “It’s not just the bar owners. It’s all the people that the bar owners employ that have kids and mortgages and rent. They’re not going to be able to bounce back.”