Trust Ohioans to self-police as state reopens

As operations at Ohio businesses, including restaurants, bars, retailers and now gyms, salons and others are permitted to resume amid a “flattening curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents are eager to get out of the house, albeit with new restrictions.

The guidelines spelled out by health experts such as Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, include logical expectations of social distancing, strong recommendations of donning a face mask, frequent hand washing and disinfecting.

Businesses in the Mahoning Valley — and likely around the state — have expressed willingness and commitment to compliance because they want and need to get back to business, but also because it is their desire to keep employees and customers safe. Many businesses, in fact, have instituted their own policies that reach beyond the rules Acton and Gov. Mike DeWine spelled out for Ohioans.

As residents ventured out to enjoy the beautiful summerlike weather over the long holiday weekend, many eagerly returned to restaurants, retailers and hair salons. Many others remained cautious, however, steering clear of crowds. Certainly, no one wants to get sick or risk carrying an illness home to their loved ones.

This type of self-policing involves actions that responsible adults already do every day — not just in light of COVID-19. It comes with the way we drive our cars, the way we eat or exercise, the way we budget and spend our money, and every other decision we make each day about the risks we choose to take.

That’s why we wonder why our governor felt it necessary to take new steps in apparent attempts to ensure Ohioans and businesses comply with his restrictions — especially after millions of Ohioans already have been demonstrating their willingness to comply with health and safety recommendations over the past months.

DeWine has created “compliance units” to police activities at area bars and restaurants, monitoring things like crowd control and restaurant seating arrangements. Locally, the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office has been selected as one of the jurisdictions that is coordinating a temporary task force while restaurant and bars reopen with the goal of assisting in ensuring customers are practicing social distancing.

Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene told our reporter that he does not intend for his officers to make arrests or act in a way that is “heavy- handed.” Rather he is looking at his task force as a tool offering guidance to the restaurants and bars.

Good. We are pleased to hear that; however, we wonder why it was law enforcement teams that the governor chose to turn to, rather than other organizations like area health departments.

In the past months, we have used this space to applaud DeWine and his team for the assertive actions they showcased early and during this health crisis. But we worry that his latest attempts at utilizing law enforcement to drive compliance may be overreach.



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