Six months after first COVID-19 case, DeWine’s ‘no ordinary time’ comment still true

Students wear face masks as they arrive on buses at Madison Elementary School Thursday, August 20, 2020 in Madison Township. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Students wear face masks as they arrive on buses at Madison Elementary School Thursday, August 20, 2020 in Madison Township. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Six months ago, Gov. Mike DeWine, addressing the state after three Ohioans from Cuyahoga County tested positive for the coronavirus, told residents that “this disease will, for a period of time, significantly disrupt our lives. This is no ordinary time.”

During that press conference, he declared a state of emergency.

Since then, the Butler County region has seen significant changes as residents and businesses have learned to adapt and live their lives in ways they couldn’t have imagined when 2020 started.

They have adjusted to the new normal — wearing masks, staying six feet apart, and frequently washing their hands — which experts believe will be with us at least until a vaccine is widely available, or even beyond.

Since March 9, the first time an Ohioan tested positive, there have been 134,086 reported cases of COVID-19 in the state that have led to 4,354 deaths and 14,164 hospitalizations, according to statistics released Thursday from the Ohio Department of Health.

No one has been immune from the impacts of COVID-19.

Nursing homes and hospitals eliminated visitors in hopes of reducing the spread to those most vulnerable; schools closed their buildings and sent students home to learn virtually, then cancelled or modified in-person graduations; restaurants and bars were closed, then allowed to reopen with reduced capacity; Ohioans dealt with layoffs and furloughs or worked from home; and it was hard to go into public without seeing people wearing masks.

The way DeWine and then-Health Director Dr. Amy Acton handled the coronavirus led to protests April 10 at the Ohio Statehouse and outside Acton’s home.

Those decisions made in Columbus greatly impacted life in the Butler County region.

One of the hardest hit industries has been the arts community, said Ian MacKenzie-Thurley, executive director of the Fitton Center For Creative Arts in Hamilton. Shows and concerts were cancelled. Performers and musicians were out of work.

“It has been the ride of a lifetime,” he said.

Then he added, “I hope it’s the ride of my lifetime. But we’re not done yet. We’re still trying to figure it out. We might have to live with the virus. In the meantime, we have to live and work safely. That’s a big challenge."

He said the last six months have shown the resiliency of the arts community. He can’t imagine what the public would have done for entertainment without Nexflix, Amazon, podcasts, magazines, newspapers, books, movies and music.

“Take that away and what are you left with?” he said. “We are an integral part of society, the entire world. We need the arts to live and function. We inspire and entertain and keep people sane."

He said the Fitton Center is financially stable, but he sees other entertainment venues closing before the end of the year.

The same has been true in the food and beverage business as numerous restaurants have closed due to the coronavirus. Since March, bars and restaurants, as ordered by DeWine, were closed, then. allowed to serve carry-out, then allowed to reopen with reduced seating. Then bars recently were ordered to stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m.

Triple Moon Coffee Shop, one of downtown Middletown’s most popular businesses, closed the dining room and built a drive-through to survive during the pandemic, said Heather Gibson, the owner.

Then about 10 days ago, an employee there tested positive for the COVID-19, and Gibson closed.

“It was the safest thing to do for the community,” she said from her home.

Gibson hopes to reopen the drive-through this week, but probably will keep the dining room closed the rest of the year. Until the number of positive tests in Ohio drops, Gibson doesn’t feel safe, she said.

“I don’t want to do things that are irresponsible,” she said. “This year is already sunk for me. Why risk it?”

She pulled her son, who has asthma, out of his youth soccer tournaments and cancelled numerous family vacations to Niagara Falls, Mexico, Florida and the Great Smokey Mountains.

“Everything has changed,” she said of the last six months. “Just a disaster for everything.”

When Matt Berding opened Berd’s Grill and Bar in Fairfield in June 2019, he had no idea what 2020 would hold. He has adjusted his business model to depend more on carry-out and now has to deal with the 10 p.m. alcohol curfew.

That means those customers there to watch late-night sporting events — Sunday and Monday night football and postseason baseball — probably will leave at halftime or before the baseball game ends.

And then the Big Ten announced there would be no college football. Ohio State football is good for business.

“It’s tough right now,” Berding said.

He’s having trouble finding employees because with the unemployment policies that provide extra benefits, people are “not enticed to get a job.”

Since last winter season, Steve Shuck, commissioner of the 10-team Greater Miami Conference, has spent months juggling sports schedules and assigning officials. But when he looks back at the impact of the coronavirus, he thinks about the student/athletes and the opportunities they lost.

“Not being able to finish” is how he described the 2019-20 school year when the winter championships were cancelled and the spring season never started. “Everything was cut off. I hated that those kids would be unable to move forward. For some of them, that was their last chance to play."

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