Enforcing Ohio's mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines at bars, restaurants

Posted at 7:11 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 23:39:18-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Governor Mike DeWine announced Thursday that the Ohio Investigative Unit, a division of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, would be assisting in enforcing rules for mask-wearing and social distancing at bars and restaurants.

"Most bar owners are doing a good job, but we do have bar owners out there who are not doing a good job, and so we've asked the health department to pinpoint those," DeWine said, adding that the OIU would also be continuing that work.

Typically, the OIU enforces Ohio's liquor laws and investigates crimes on or about liquor permit premises, according to Greg Croft, agent-in-charge of the OIU Cleveland office.

With COVID-19, Croft said, there have been a lot of changes to the industry.

"We've been trying to educate as much as we can," Croft said. "We have taken some enforcement action for places that are egregious violations where there [are] dozens of people congregating, not social distancing. You know, basically a threat to public health and safety."

Croft said all OIU agents are peace officers who have dual authority to issue both administrative citations and criminal citations.

"If we find a place in violation administratively, we will issue what's called a violation," Croft said. "It will be a violation notice against the liquor permit, which is not criminal, it's administrative only. They'll have to go to a hearing down in Columbus in front of the Ohio Liquor Control Commission."

That commission would then decide whether to give the business a fine, suspension or revocation.

Croft said the "vast majority" of the businesses that hold Ohio's more than 20,000 liquor permits are "doing a great job, doing the best they can."

"But there are some that are still committing some egregious violations, so those are the ones we're gonna be targeting," Croft said. "We're not going to be targeting locations that are trying to make a good effort to do what's right."

Croft said OIU agents will take complaints from the public, as will local health departments, and that the OIU will begin with administrative violations rather than criminal citations.

Asked what he would say to people who aren't following mandates or recommendations about mask-wearing and social distancing, Croft said, "All that we can say is that the health order’s in place for a reason. You know, we have to follow what's there. The business owners have to follow it. I would ask that the patrons have respect for the business owners. They're trying to do the right thing."

If you have concerns or complaints, you can contact your local health department or the OIU.

In Cuyahoga County, more than 550 complaints came in to the county's hotline about people not wearing masks in the first weekend after the state mandate for Cuyahoga County went into effect. Most of the complaints were about businesses.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Rebound Northeast Ohio News 5's initiative to help people through the financial impact of the coronavirus by offering one place to go for information on everything available to help and how to access it. We're providing resources on:

Getting Back to Work - Learn about the latest job openings, how to file for benefits and succeed in the job market.

Making Ends Meet - Find help on topics from rent to food to new belt-tightening techniques.

Managing the Stress - Feeling isolated or frustrated? Learn ways to connect with people virtually, get counseling or manage your stress.

Doing What's Right - Keep track of the way people are spending your tax dollars and treating your community.

We're Open! Northeast Ohio is place created by News 5 to open us up to new ways of thinking, new ways of gathering and new ways of supporting each other.

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Ohio, a timeline of Governor Mike DeWine's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Northeast Ohio, and link to more information from the Ohio Department of Health, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, the CDC and the WHO.

See data visualizations showing the impact of coronavirus in Ohio, including county-by-county maps, charts showing the spread of the disease, and more.

The CDC and the Ohio Department of Health are now recommending the use of cloth face coverings in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Read more about the CDC's recommendation here. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to make a face maskfrom common household materials, without having to know how to sew.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.