CLEVELAND — Although Gov. Mike DeWine allowed the statewide curfew to expire on Thursday, state officials and doctors on the front line said it is not time to abandon social distancing and wearing a mask. Even as vaccine production and distribution continue to lead to more inoculations, researchers are still exploring and warning of potentially more contagious and deadly strains of the coronavirus.
Shortly after midnight early Friday morning, West 6th Street in downtown Cleveland resembled a Thursday night before the pandemic. Crowds of people, some of whom were not wearing masks, jaunted from bar to bar to revel in the curfew being lifted and bars staying open later. Although the days of last call coming at 10 or 11 p.m. are over for now, the state’s public health orders, including capacity limitations, public mask-wearing and social distancing requirements, remain in full effect.
“With the expiration of the curfew, the only thing that really changes for the Ohio Investigative Unit are the hours that a location is allowed to operate,” said Eric Wolf, the commander of the OIU’s enforcement unit. “With that, all of the other department of health requirements remain in effect. Our agents are still out there looking for the social distancing issues, the overcrowding as well as the mask issues with employees.”
By and large, Commander Wolf said the vast majority of bar and restaurant owners across the state — as well as their patrons — have remained in compliance. Even today, nearly a year after the pandemic began, Wolf said the level of compliance statewide has been a pleasant surprise.
"Most locations are supposed to be doing what they are supposed to be doing. We fully expect that to continue even with the expiration of the curfew. However, we will continue to see problem spots. That has been the case throughout the pandemic,” Wolf said. “We certainly don’t expect all the locations to do what they are supposed to do. Our agents are going to be out ensuring compliance and issuing warnings and education where appropriate as well as those administrative citations for the egregious violations of the health orders. No matter what the situation, there are always those locations that try to skirt the rules and take advantage of a situation.”
The expiration of the statewide curfew comes as new positive cases of the coronavirus as well as new hospitalizations have dropped precipitously since the curfew was enacted on Nov. 19. On the day the curfew began, there were 9,175 new cases of the virus and more than 300 new hospitalizations. The preliminary number of new cases with an illness onset date of Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 dropped to 902 and the number of new hospitalizations fell below 70.
For the same reason that a warm day in February doesn’t mean that winter is over, the declines in new cases and hospitalizations doesn’t mean the pandemic is over either.
“We really still need to be careful, especially now that we know the variants are starting to circulate in the country. It is not time for us to throw in the towel yet,” said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, the director of infection control at UH’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. “We need to be doing the same things after curfew that we were doing before in terms of masking, distancing and ensuring that we’re keeping each other safe. We have to be cautious. These other variants are out there.”
Dr. Hoyen said there is still much research to be done on the variants to the COVID-19 virus, most notably the U.K. and Brazilian variants. Early research has shown that the two mutations of the virus have made it even more deadly and more easily spread. Dr. Hoyen said with each new case of COVID-19, the virus has to replicate itself billions and trillions of times.
With each replication is an opportunity for yet another variant to develop.
“If there’s anything that this pandemic has taught us is that we need to be humble and we need to be willing to pivot and do the right things,” Dr. Hoyen said. “Each time it replicates it has yet another opportunity to make a mistake. That’s where these variants arise from. It’s really just mistakes that have been made and we don’t want things to be spreading. We can’t stop fighting because I can tell you the virus will not stop making mistakes.”
Although questions still surround whether some versions of the COVID-19 vaccine are effective against new strains of the virus, some of the research has been promising. However, with only 14% of the US population currently vaccinated and only 10.5% of Ohio’s population vaccinated, herd immunity is still several months away.
“If we learn together and swim together, we’ll be able to navigate these waters,” Dr. Hoyen said. “It’s wonderful that we’re able to move about more freely but we still have to be careful.”
Gov. DeWine said Thursday that if cases begin trending in the wrong direction, re-implementing the curfew may be considered.