(The Center Square) — A new team will enforce compliance with the Responsible RestartOhio plan, which aims to allow businesses to reopen safely in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gov. Mike DeWine indicated non-compliance could lead to closures.
The new team will “conduct safety compliance checks in crowded bars and restaurants,” according to a news release from the governor.
The state is planning to issue administrative citations against businesses that do not comply with state regulations, which could lead to a revocation of liquor licenses, state officials said. The enforcement team will also work with prosecutors to potentially file criminal charges against business owners who do not follow state mandates.
“We know that many Ohio bars and restaurants are working very hard to comply with the safety guidelines, and I want to commend them for doing that,” DeWine said.
“We did, however, receive several very troubling reports this weekend of bars and restaurants that were not complying with proper social distancing guidelines,” DeWine added. “We cannot allow the few bad actors to threaten the potential closure of other restaurants and bars.”
The state allowed bars and restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining on Friday, while dine-in service is set to resume on May 21. As part of the reopening, patrons must remain seated while dining and stay at least six feet apart.
The new team will operate as part of the state Department of Safety’s Ohio Investigative Unit (OIU).
As of Monday afternoon, Ohio reported 28,454 “confirmed and probable cases” of COVID-19 and 1,657 “confirmed and probable” deaths from COVID-19.
“What you do every day and how you practice good safety habits will literally determine whether other people live or die,” DeWine said on Twitter. “What you do could cost others their lives. When you go out to a bar or restaurant, have fun – but it’s critical to keep social distancing.”
Todd DeFeo is a contributor to The Center Square Contributor