Butler County business leaders react to DeWine’s decision to lift COVID-19 health orders

When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Wednesday he’ll lift most of Ohio’s health restriction, a co-owner of Berd’s Grill and Bar in Fairfield was “excited.”

“Getting rid of the masks, I think, is the biggest thing right now,” said Berd’s co-owner Matt Berding. “I know that’s been a real struggle for our staff, especially getting into the summertime again.”

DeWine announced in his fourth statewide primetime address on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ohio: “It is time to end the health orders.”

The governor asked the Ohio Department of Health to remove most coronavirus-related health orders on June 2, including the mask mandate, social distancing guidelines, and capacity restrictions for indoor and outdoor events. Orders that will remain in effect will relate to nursing homes and assisted living centers and pandemic data collection.

DeWine previously said he would remove the orders when cases declined to an average of 50 detected cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks, and while cases have declined to 119.9 cases per 100,000 they aren’t at the original benchmark.

Spirited Garden Landscapes owner Carrie Pate said she has mixed emotions on lifting the health orders, though she does trust DeWine’s opinion.

“I’ve appreciated the governor keeping us safe for 2020, and having our best interests in mind, and following the health department’s advice,” said the Hamilton business owner. “But I’m still concerned about the restrictions just going away because variants aren’t gone. I understand his need to let businesses open up. So, I have mixed feelings.”

Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York, citing two studies, told the New York Times last month the vaccine will still protect people from becoming significantly or severely ill from the COVID-19 variants.

“We’re not seeing big differences,” said Nussenzweig, who was also a member of the team that published one of the studies last month.

Pate said she and her staff will still practice some of those health protocols while indoor, though most of her landscaping business is conducted outside. She will wear a mask while interacting with customers, her staff will wear masks when indoors, and distancing and sanitation practices will continue by her staff.

“It’s just courtesy,” Pate said about wearing a mask when interacting with customers. “I don’t know if they’ve been vaccinated. Myself and my employees have all been vaccinated.”

Butler County Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Mark Hecquet said the lifting of nearly all COVID-19 restrictions will open travel to the state.

“There’s a pent-up demand for people to travel,” he said but believes an influx of travelers to Ohio will be a gradual build-up. “People are looking to travel at the end of the day and people are looking for places to go.”

Ohio is a destination location for travelers, in particular Butler County, with a number of attractions people are seeking, including outdoor recreation and events, hiking and biking, rivers and lakes, and destinations like River’s Edge, Jungle Jim’s and Wake Nation, Hecquet said.

But some of the health protocols the country has been practicing for more than a year could still be in place, specifically hand sanitizing.

“It’s about making our visitors feel comfortable here,” Hecquet said.

The Butler County Visitors Bureau will work with the county to have hand sanitizer units out at large events, and work with large event organizers to make sure patrons feel safe.

“It’s not like it’s mandatory, but it’s just good practice,” Hecquet said. “We want to be welcoming, we want to make sure we’re providing an environment that’s welcoming for every visitor, irrespective of who you are.”

But underpinning the moment is the still-present coronavirus pandemic. People who are unvaccinated can still get severely ill, have long-running health effects after the initial bout, or even die from the virus.

Far fewer people are vulnerable to this possibility, with 4.9 million Ohioans with at least one dose. More than half of those 16 and older in Ohio having received at least one dose. More than 75% of those 65 and older have at least one dose.

The move to lift orders also comes as 589,000 more Ohioans became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine after the Pfizer option was authorized for children as young as 12 years old.

Ohio Republicans had been moving to remove the health orders anyhow. Senate Bill 22 goes into effect on June 23 and the Ohio legislature was gearing up to remove the orders then.

Micah Berman, associate professor of health services management and policy at Ohio State University, said he thinks the governor’s announcement makes it far less likely that the courts will review the constitutionality of SB 22 anytime soon.

“SB 22 severely limits the government’s authority to respond to public health emergencies, and there are serious questions about the law’s constitutionality. It would be better to have clear answers to those questions before we face the next public health emergency,” Berman said.