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Kent closes outdoor seating due to increased COVID-19 risk as bars and enclosed patios remain open

Posted at 1:39 PM, Sep 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-18 16:09:40-04

KENT, Ohio — After Portage County was elevated to red Level 3 on the state’s COVID-19 advisory system, the City of Kent has suspended weekend picnic seating on Franklin Avenue and Erie Street, thus limiting the public consumption of alcoholic beverages to the inside of bars and restaurants and on their enclosed patios.

The City of Kent posted this update about its Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas:

With Portage County Health Alert going to Red Level III, the DORA is suspended until the county returns to Orange Level II.

Please refrain from gatherings of any size during this time, wear face coverings and wash your hands often.

Many on Facebook were quick to express their frustration with this decision, pointing out that ushering people back indoors, where ventilation is comparatively poor, runs contrary to CDC guidance concerning the spread of COVID-19 at the same time the county is experiencing an increase in spread, according to Thursday’s update from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, that is the result of off-campus and Greek activities around Kent State University

The county’s average daily cases have increased from an average of 5.5 on August 26 to almost 11 on Sept. 4, DeWine said. The county also saw an increase in daily outpatient visits from an average of six on Sept. 10 to an average of nine one week later.

“The majority of cases are being driven by activities in off-campus housing and to a lesser degree, Greek housing,” DeWine said. So far this month, 51% of Portage County’s cases are in people younger than 29.

In response to the rise to Level 3, Kent State University changed campus dining locations to take-out only and limited the university’s residence halls to students living on-campus only.

RELATED: Portage Co. moves up to red level 3; new cases driven by off-campus, Greek activities, DeWine says

Beginning in late August, the City of Kent closed Franklin Avenue and set up picnic tables over the weekend so restaurant and bar patrons could grab carry-out food and drinks from downtown restaurants and enjoy them in the open-air environment while maintaining a safe distance from each other. They said at the time that they planned to continue this practice through the fall.

Facebook user JJ Sutphin replied to Main Street Kent’s post announcing the picnic area closure: “This is the most ignorant decision ever. Force people to now stand inside with no ventilation in most bars instead of sitting outside safely spaced apart in fresh air”.

The City of Kent provided this statement to explain the decision:

Bars and restaurants currently have a new occupancy based on the Governor's Safe Re-open Plan. There is a limit to how many can come in, patrons have to have a seat to consume, the bars cannot be over crowded inside.

We are concerned about the intersection where those who may be more vulnerable for acquiring COVID-19 are overlapping with those age groups who are more likely to have mild illness and be able to spread it unwittingly.

We also know COIVD -19 can be spread outside, being outside is not an assurance you will not contract this infection.

During this time of increased cases we would hope that people would be cautious of their choices and behaviors. Our goal is to bring down our case counts so there is not deeper spread into other community settings. that would bring us into a higher level IV purple. The longer we are in red level III, the more likely that might be to happen. We are taking serious action because we want our community to realize this is serious and we need their help, we need to act assertively and decisively.

The interventions to try and limit spread were discussed with the Ohio Department of Health and they agreed our choices for decisive, swift action, may bring the best results.