COLUMBUS, Ohio (FOX19) - Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine spoke with the Ohio Restaurant Association Thursday about the state’s 10 p.m. ban on alcohol sales, he said during his afternoon COVID-19 briefing.
Friday in Dayton, the governor described his takeaways from that conversation, including some unintended consequences of the ban:
“Look, these are difficult decisions. We know that between 10 and 12 (p.m.), bars are losing that revenue from alcohol. But we also know one thing we might not have figured out, is that people might want to come in and eat late or come in and order a bottle of wine for that meal, so that last group of people that might come in for dinner are not coming in. So it might crowd some people in. They might still be going in, but they’re coming in at a different time.
"The truth is where we are seeing the most spread is not in businesses, but we are seeing most of this in people letting their guard down. And some of the arguments the restaurant people made is, look, we are responsible when they are in our bar, and we can keep them apart (…) but when they leave at 10 o’clock, we don’t know what they’re doing.”
Ohio’s Liquor Control Commission put the ban into place at the end of July. At the time, DeWine said its rationale was to slow the spread of COVID-19 and avert another wholesale shutdown of Ohio’s bars and restaurants.
The governor’s comments Thursday fell short of a turnabout on that rationale, but they did offer daylight for those who believe the ban should be lifted.
“If you look at where we are seeing a lot of the spread (...) it’s not that we don’t have spread coming out of bars and restaurants, but if you look at the things we talk about the most, it’s funerals, it’s weddings, it’s big gatherings,” he said. “(...) So, there’s a lot of things that are causing spread in Ohio today.”
The 10 p.m. alcohol ban was put into place as Ohio was experiencing a midsummer surge in cases. Following the alcohol ban, though not therefore because of it, cases began to fall. They have since begun to rise again.
DeWine did not comment on the effectiveness of the alcohol ban—whether cases would have been higher were it not instituted. Nor is it clear any such claim can be verified empirically.
The dispositive nature of the ban notwithstanding, DeWine noted his concern for Ohio’s business owners.
“We are trying to weigh the balance that small business-men and -women, you know, we’re into football season, we know this extra time people can spend in a bar is important to businesses," he said. "This is really no different than any other decision we’ve made. Every decision we’ve made has been a balance, and they have not been easy decisions, so we’ll listen to [ORA] this afternoon, and we’ll see.”
FOX19 NOW has spoken to bar and restaurant owners and managers across the city, including at Jefferson Social, Homemakers, Treehouse Patio and Boomtown Biscuits and Whiskey. Reaction to the rule was universally negative.
Some said would-be patrons just end up going to private residences where COVID-19 can spread more easily.
Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac and Mayor John Cranley have argued the ban is leading to more violence in the city.
Cranley sought to have Cincinnati exempted from the ban in early September, but DeWine responded that was not legally feasible.