Ohio alcohol sales restricted as COVID-19 cases remain high

Andrew Welsh-Huggins

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Alcohol sales will be banned after 10 p.m. Friday under an executive order issued by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by limiting close gatherings.

The order also prohibits the consumption of any drinks after 11 p.m. In a nod to the hit businesses are expected to take, it also boosts to three the number of alcoholic drinks that can be bought per takeout meal.

DeWine’s order followed the Ohio Liquor Control Commission’s adoption of an emergency rule earlier in the day that made the changes and allowed them to be implemented immediately.

The restriction is necessary because social distancing worsens late at night in establishments selling alcohol, DeWine said Thursday when he announced the order. The governor said bars lend themselves to people being close to others for hours at a time, whether at one establishment or several as people bar hop.

“We do not want to shut down Ohio bars and restaurants. That would be devastating to them,” the governor said. “But we do have to take some kind of action and see what kind of results we get.”

A similar order in Columbus was struck down almost immediately by a judge, and legal challenges of the governor’s statewide order are also expected.

Bar owners across the state criticized the move, saying DeWine should be punishing specific businesses for allowing improper gatherings and not the entire industry.

In Lakewood in suburban Cleveland, the owner of Viking-themed cocktail bar LBM said the outlet thrives on its 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. business.

“If he restricts those last four hours of service, essentially he’s taking away one of our busiest times,” co-owner Eric Ho told cleveland.com. “We can lose up to 40% of our income based on tips.”

Such restrictions are difficult for an industry already suffering severe consequences because of the pandemic and earlier shutdown orders, the Ohio Restaurant Association said.

“For those businesses and their employees, this additional restriction will be devastating and will be very difficult for them to overcome,” the association said.

It urged state and local leaders to work with restaurants to expand outdoor dining, and to make contact tracing data available to measure which “sectors and activities” of the industry are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 cases remained high in Ohio on Friday, with the Health Department reporting 1,533 probable and confirmed cases. More than 91,000 total cases have been reported to date, and 3,489 people have died.

The prison system has been hard hit, and on Friday the state confirmed 23 death row inmates had tested positive in a flare-up that began just within the past week.