Gov. Mike DeWine saw the same photos you might have seen from this weekend's first round of patio openings across the state.
It appears that while the vast majority of restaurant and bar owners have taken the state's guidelines seriously and reopened in adherence with not only the letter but the spirit of the rules, others have flouted them.
DeWine told NBC4 there's a simple enforcement mechanism for offending owners.
“In regard to bars, we have a fairly effective tool that deals with a bar that does not want to follow what we have to do, and that is their liquor license,” DeWine said. “They will lose their liquor license. We don’t want to go around and be the social police, that’s not what anyone intends to do.”
Probably not an ideal time to be front-and-center on the news or the subject of a viral tweet, like Standard Hall in Columbus, which drew police calls and the attention of local TV stations on Friday night that prompted, in part, a statement issued by the governor's office.
"Ohio was able to responsibly reopen businesses quickly due to the fact that Ohioans have widely followed the expert guidance to socially distance, practice proper sanitization and hygiene, and avoid unnecessary contact with others. Ohio is a success story for following these protocols.
"As restaurants and bars opened yesterday for patio service, we know many establishments across Ohio are doing their part to follow best practices to keep patrons safe and socially distanced. However, anecdotes are also being distributed across the state about establishments that opened and allegedly ignored these safety guidelines.
"Those who operate their businesses while disregarding safety guidelines, designed to protect the health of their customers and all Ohioans, are being irresponsible and need to understand that these guidelines will be enforced."
On CNN's State of the Union Sunday, DeWine said a Columbus establishment had been cited this weekend.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine reacts to photographs of crowded bars in his state: "Candidly, we've worked with the attorney general ... and we're going to do what we have to do if these things in fact occur across Ohio" #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/89ByMrwxMf— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) May 17, 2020
And some cities aren't waiting for the state to take action.
Locally, Mayor John Cranley said he'll shut down restaurants and bars that aren't compliant.
"Despite widespread compliance, there were a few bars that clearly did not follow the requirement that all patrons have seats and that parties must be no bigger than 10 and that tables be at least 6 feet apart. As a result, this morning I met with the city manager, police health and law department leadership to discuss enforcement actions," Mayor Cranley tweeted Saturday afternoon. "Tonight, enforcement will be enhanced and bars can and will be shut down if necessary to protect the public health. In addition, depending on the situation, fines will be issued and other legal actions may be taken. To any bar that is not following the state orders, consider yourself warned."
Update on outdoor dining. pic.twitter.com/RUXuGg9Y2R— John Cranley (@JohnCranley) May 16, 2020
The social media uproar around social distancing and safety violations even prompted a statement from the Ohio Restaurant Association — which has been pushing hard for responsible reopening and federal bailouts for the hospitality industry — that seemed poised at reinforcing customer confidence and chiding those establishments who disregarded the rules:
"The vast majority of Ohio’s restaurants and bars have met or exceeded all that is required of them to responsibly restart their businesses. We are taking steps to provide further clarification to our industry and to educate Ohioans on what they should expect when they visit our bars and restaurants.
"Like everyone, we are concerned about reports of establishments acting inconsistently with reopening guidelines set forth by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. We believe these are isolated incidents and not reflective of our industry’s overall positive response to reopening safely.
"It is important to know that under the current state order, open congregate areas of bars and restaurants remain closed, and all guests must be seated when eating or drinking. Social distancing in lines and between tables is required, and most employees will be wearing facial coverings. Especially as Ohio’s restaurants and our guests adjust to operating under these new safe operating guidelines, restaurants and bars should have someone assigned on each shift to take responsibility for assuring these requirements are met."
Anyone who is worried about over-crowded patios is, of course, a freedom-hating Karen, a nosey rat, a snitch who should just stay home if they're scared.
But, to play devil's advocate here for just as second, concerned observers just might have legitimate reasons for being wary.
1. We're still in the midst of a pandemic.
2. If an operator is ignoring part of the state's guidelines, why should they be trusted to follow the rest of them? Are they really sanitizing as often and thoroughly as they should? Are they really telling employees to stay home if they don't feel well?
3. Our sister paper The Cleveland Scene says the Cuyahoga County Board of Health said Friday that the uptick in COVID-19 cases in the past week can be traced back to the reopening of workplaces and socializing amongst coworkers.
“We’re seeing a lot more infections in workplace settings over the last week,” Cuyahoga County Board of Health Director Dr. Heidi Gullett said Friday. “This week as we’ve done more case interviews and more contact tracing, we have found that people who have returned to work have been engaging with their coworkers outside of work. That has led to new transmissions, that then result in infections coming back into the workplace.”
Imagine what a shoulder-to-shoulder patio sesh will do.
4. Everyone knows it at this point but: Young people, while at a lower risk for serious health ramifications or death from COVID-19, can spread the virus, even when asymptomatic. A South Korea man in his early 20s, for instance, had no symptoms when he visited nightclubs and bars recently. Contact tracers later tied at least 102 infections to him.
5. Most of us live in the great middle ground. Most of us don't think everyone should stay home until there's a vaccine. And most of us don't think everyone should go out and act like a virus hasn't efficiently and lethally spread across the entire world in the matter of a few months. Most of us believe we should reengage the economy, but that we should do so in safe manner. Enjoy the sun. Enjoy the air. Enjoy a meal. Perhaps don't throw ragers.