COLUMBUS, Ohio — The statewide curfew aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 that is set to expire on Jan. 23 will be extended, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine confirmed on Thursday.
DeWine previously extended the curfew on Dec. 30, which remains in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. DeWine did not say Thursday to which date he planned to extend the current curfew.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to have to stay,” DeWine said when asked about the curfew. “We’ve seen where the numbers are. We’ve had a downtick for a few days but we’re still at a very, very high level. So we’re at a very high level and so we’re going to have to continue that on.”
The governor said that while the state would love to get rid of the curfew, the state can’t let up on its actions to slow the spread of COVID-19, but there are possible next steps to ease the burden on Ohioans and local businesses, if the state can stay in control of the virus.
“The next step would probably be to take it to 11 o'clock, but we're just not there,” DeWine said. “You heard from Dr. [Bruce] Vanderhoff two days ago—he talked about this new variant, this new strain and that is a concern, that that will become more dominant in Ohio and become more contagious.
DeWine acknowledged the strain that the curfew has on businesses and individuals and said the state is still working to balance that strain with the importance of taking action against COVID-19.
“It’s a management question, how we’re trying to manage it, and people are anxious—I understand that people who own bars, people who own restaurants, people who want to go there—I get it,” DeWine said. “I fully understand what they’re thinking. They’ve expressed it to me and I get it but we’re not there yet and as governor I have to try to keep this virus down at the same time we’re getting the vaccines out just as quickly as we can.”
DeWine said the way out of the curfew correlates directly with the vaccine distribution and administration across the state.
“So the way out of this in the end will be the vaccine. The faster we can get the vaccine in, and that’s our goal,” DeWine said. “But we’re going to watch these other numbers. If these other numbers will go down appreciably then we’ll be able to pull off that, but not yet.”
While many are unhappy with the curfew, DeWine said it is a compromise in order to keep businesses open in attempt to reduce the impact the economy while limiting the contact time between Ohioans in order to slow the virus spread.
DeWine spoke directly to bar and restaurant owners during the press conference about his decision to extend the curfew.
"I know that this is difficult, I know that this has hit your ability to operate," DeWine said. "We base this on the science and the science is this: When we hit the winter months, we had more spread inside. No longer can your patrons be outside in a patio, they're inside. It spreads more inside, it spreads more in the winter. Your business is a business that unfortunately people can not wear a mask at the same time they're eating, at the same time they're drinking. And so you do a good job, this is not your fault, but the nature of your business is that there is not the ability to wear a mask."
The governor said that scientists, health officials and state officials have learned how crucial masks are to mitigating the spread of the virus and the curfew for the bars and restaurant was set as a compromise after being originally encouraged to shut them down entirely.
"We did this as a compromise. Some of the best experts that we talked to said close bars, close restaurants. We had state after state that had done that at various times during this pandemic," DeWine said. "We had Dr. [Deborah] Birx who was in a few months ago who said 'You really need to close your bars.' Dr. Birx from the Trump White House, 'You really need to close your bars, you really need to close your restaurants'—we didn't do that.
"What we did is a compromise. And the compromise is 10 o'clock," DeWine said. "We cut off some of the time when there can be contact, we cut off some of the time when people have been drinking longer and they're not as inhibited and we did that as a compromise."
While the time has been criticized by many who fail to understand the difference between an establishment closing at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., DeWine said the time isn't a magic number and is part of that compromise.
"There's nothing magical about 10 o'clock. But what is magical, what is based in science, is cutting down the contact time," DeWine said. "When you cut down the contact time, you cut down the opportunity for that spread. So those few hours after 10 o'clock cuts down on that."
The governor said the curfew, as well as the mask mandate, have helped slow the spread of the virus since their implementations—and that can't go away until the virus is under control.
"With the variant and the possibility that we're going to see a much more contagious virus in the near future and the fact that we're not seeing an appreciable drop in cases — they're still at a very, very high rate — we simply can not change, at this point, the curfew, much as I would love to do that," DeWine said.