Most businesses are complying with mask, Ohio health department orders, officials say

The Ohio Investigative Unit has made tens of thousands of visits to bars and restaurants across the state since the first novel coronavirus-based health order went into effect in March 2020 with most finding compliance with state edicts.

More than 360 establishments have received more than 540 citations as of Feb. 21 for violating some aspect of the Ohio Department of Health’s orders designed to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus that’s infected nearly 1 million Ohioans and resulted in more than 17,000 deaths.

Eric Wolf, OIU enforcement commander, said they had been “pleasantly surprised” by the compliance given that the unit and the business owners would be following consistently changing health department orders. He said business owners want to be in compliance so their patrons feel comfortable and remain open for the livelihood of their employees.

“We have had a few locations push back on these rules and regulations,” he said. “We’ve had a few, especially early on, that were very defiant, saying ‘We understand what the rules are but we’re not going to follow them.’”

The unit conducted its investigation and issued citations, and those cases went before the Ohio Liquor Control Commission. Some lost their liquor licenses. Health rules and orders changed as new information was made available as scientists studied the COVID-19 virus, and Wolf said, “We tried to provide a source of information and education as well.”

Through Feb. 18, the OIU, which is a division of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, visited more than 29,000 establishments across Ohio since March 15, 2020. Many were cited for not following the state-mandated curfew, serving alcohol past 10 p.m., and not adhering to social distancing protocols.

Visits are initiated either by tips, local law enforcement or health departments. Occasionally, OIU agents will initiate visits if they see a potential infraction on the way to or from an inspection.

Wolf said the unit has issued 159 warnings as of Feb. 18 to businesses. There have been 35 warnings issued in the designated Cincinnati area, which includes Butler and Warren counties and the Dayton region. Only the Cleveland region had more warnings at 39, according to the OIU.

Also working to enforce the state’s health rules and regulations is the Retail Compliance Unit, where through Thursday, 29,406 retail establishments have been visited, which included 1,080 last week, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The unit inspects locations to ensure businesses are following ODH’s Nov. 13 order on retail and business compliance for facial coverings.

“The Ohio Department of Health continues to urge Ohioans to wear a mask, wash their hands, and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said ODH spokeswoman Alicia Shoults.

The unit monitors retail businesses like big box stores, grocery stores, supermarkets and convenience stores. Shoults said the “overwhelming number of retailers, employees and customers we have visited are complying with safety protocols and the state’s mask order.”

Of the 29,406 visits, there were 219 warnings issued since the order went into effect.

The RCU does not check on restaurants, bars, banquet and catering centers, hair and nail salons, day spas, barbershops, tattoo parlors, body piercing locations, tanning facilities, gyms, dance instruction studios, or personal fitness venues. Shoults says local health departments inspect these locations.

Following the rules

The state’s Retail Compliance Unit reports an Ohio compliance rate of:

  • 94 percent among customers properly wearing masks
  • 95.3 percent among employees properly wearing masks
  • 97.6 percent among retail businesses with proper signage
  • 97 percent among retail businesses with proper social distancing

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