Mayor John Cranley’s latest press conference provided an update on the city’s reopening, which most recently saw bars and restaurants opening their outdoor seating to the public over the weekend.
But before addressing the reopening of bars and restaurants, Mayor Cranley gave the floor to Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore to speak on the latest numbers regarding COVID-19 cases in the city.
As of Monday, May 18, Cincinnati had 23 new positive cases, bringing the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 880. Of those 880 cases, there have been 38 deaths, 187 hospitalizations and 426 recoveries. The total number of cases in the state of Ohio is at 28,454.
“I want to gently remind everyone, we are seeing an increase in numbers,” Commissioner Moore said. “Please maintain social distancing and please have a face covering on if you are out and about.”
The small rise in coronavirus cases was expected as the city enters its first phase of reopening. Ohio bars and restaurants were given permission to reopen their outdoor seating to the public with strict guidelines regarding the practice of social distancing and sanitation. Mayor Cranley spoke on the situation as he resumed the podium.
“This weekend we had a number of restaurants and bars that opened outdoor, and overall we had great compliance,” the mayor said, complimenting the establishments who were diligent in maintaining public safety guidelines.
The mayor mentioned he participated in the reopening, having enjoyed an outdoor dinner at OTR's Pepp & Dolores. (He later answered a press query questioning his decision to dine with friends with whom he wasn't quarantining and the mayor said the guidance in Ohio is that groups of 10 or less can gather.)
“From what I saw, the restaurant went to great lengths to have all of its employees wear masks and to follow the rules,” Mayor Cranley said. “I can state that overall throughout the weekend, we had widespread compliance.”
However, a few establishments in Cincinnati received some attention on social media on Friday, May 15. The images on social media indicated a few establishments were lacking in enforcement of some of the city’s health guidelines regarding social distancing.
Those images prompted the mayor to issue this statement — and warning — to restaurants and bars on his Twitter on Saturday.
Update on outdoor dining. pic.twitter.com/RUXuGg9Y2R— John Cranley (@JohnCranley) May 16, 2020
After referencing these images, the mayor shared with viewers that city officials had met with some of these establishments to correct some of the setbacks that occurred.
“I think everybody knows there were a few places that caught some attention on social media. So on Saturday we all met and came up with the kind of plan that, I think, we promised. We had our police and health department and our law department work together and communicate with the bars and restaurants in advance. And I’m happy to report that we had compliance on Saturday night, even from the two or three places that were pointed out on social media on Friday night that maybe weren’t practicing the best social distancing,” the mayor stated.
Speaking more on this past weekend’s reopening was Environmental Health Director Antonio Young, who is heading up the city's team of sanitarians set to investigate COVID-19 compliance.
“This weekend went pretty smoothly in all respects,” Young said. “We deployed a couple of teams out on Saturday that were able to go to Over-the-Rhine as well as The Banks area to just to talk with these particular operators just making sure they are aware of what the guidelines are currently...We were able to gain substantial compliance just through that process.”
After the house calls to the restaurants, which included law enforcement and city health officials, Young reported that the city received little to no reports of non-compliance of safety guidelines throughout the city. No restaurants or bars were fined (fines start at $75 for a first offense).
In many cases, our sanitarians and Police served as educators for business owners about some of the more nuanced parts of the order, especially regarding the requirement that customers eating/drinking must be seated at all times pic.twitter.com/rHmVzK4NM4— John Cranley (@JohnCranley) May 18, 2020
But Cranley did say, even though this joint task force between health department sanitarians and the Cincinnati Police exists, it is incumbent upon the businesses to be responsible for adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines.
"I have told the governor we don't have sufficient manpower to thoroughly enforce, which is why the vast majority of our enforcement will be complaint driven. I think there are many counties in this state that have essentially no full-time staff in their respective health departments and/or capacity within their police departments to enforce," the mayor said. "One of the lucky and great things about being in a city that has a long tradition of a wonderful public health department is that we have trained professionals who can help through these processes. And I think that's important so that the customer and the public and the employees know that there is going to be some enforcement.
"But this past weekend was really a relatively small number of restaurants and bars that were open. This weekend there's going to be far, far more and there's no possible way that we will get to all of them in terms of enforcement," he continued. "We'll do the best that we can but at some level we need people to take responsibility for their own behavior. And the owners of these establishments need to take responsibility for their own behavior."
For any restaurants or bars that have questions about safety or compliance, the city is hosting a webinar at 5:30 today (May 19). Businesses can register here.
The city will continue to grapple with case numbers as the state begins its reopening process. The next phase of reopening is looking toward the reopening of public pools, day-camps and summer camps for parents to have a safe place for their children as parents slowly begin returning to work. The Mayor indicated he expects an update on these reopening timelines later this week.
For more information and the latest updates on the city’s response to the coronavirus and reopening, visit cincinnati-oh.gov/covid19.