MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners said Thursday they are not certain why the state may again close restaurants, bars and fitness centers as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to spike.
But they do know that Gov. Mike DeWine continues to not share his plans with local elected officials before he announces them, as he did during a statewide broadcast Wednesday.
If the current trend of rising COVID-19 cases continues, DeWine said the state would be forced to close restaurants, bars and fitness centers. He said such an announcement could come as early as next week.
The announcement came one day after a bi-partisan Ohio Senate bill aimed at ending the governor's 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales at bars and restaurants was referred to the Transportation, Commerce and Workforce committee.
DeWine's new announcements, including the pronouncement the state was adding new enforcement provisions for businesses related to mask usage, came as news to Richland County commissioners.
"We received no prior communication from the governor's office that this could happen," Commissioner Tony Vero said. "We continue to receive no communication about measures the governor may take. Since this pandemic started, we have operated in the dark."
Commissioner Marilyn John said last week she had been told the governor's office was planning online meetings with local governments to discuss the individual county situations and the 88 county-wide "COVID Defense Teams" that DeWine wanted to see formed.
The governor called for the formation of those teams Oct. 29 during one of his bi-weekly press conferences. There has been little discussion about them since then.
"I haven't heard from the governor's office about those Zoom meetings since last Monday," she said. "I don't know if the governor is still having Zoom calls ... if we're scheduled to have a Zoom call. I don't have an update there," John said.
Vero said commissioners have received emails since Wednesday night from local bar/restaurant and fitness center owners and also residents asking why the governor is singling out those businesses.
"There is no doubt the (COVID) numbers are increasing. But the governor himself has said those businesses and organizations don't seem to be the cause of the spike," Vero said.
The commissioner said he sent emails to state Sen. Larry Obhof and state Rep. Mark Romanchuk, seeking an explanation for the governor's warning.
"Why would you be closing places that aren't the cause of the spike?" Vero asked. "If you're going to insist on another measure of lockdowns, it would make sense for the governor to show the number of increased cases from those specific organizations.
"(DeWine) offered no numbers. Those are some pretty serious measures to take, (perhaps) closing businesses without providing tangible data," Vero said.
DeWine issued a statewide mask mandate in July, which has not been lifted. He "re-issued" that order Wednesday evening, adding additional requirements for businesses.
Each business will be responsible for requiring that customers and employees are wearing masks. DeWine said a new "Retail Compliance Unit," comprised of agents from the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, will perform inspections to ensure compliance.
A business will get a written warning for the first violation, DeWine said. A second violation could lead to the business be closed for up to 24 hours.
County commissioners questioned how the order will be enforced.
"My concern is, if an individual or a resident walks into a business and is not wearing a mask, the business is now being put into the position of telling the customer that they must put one on or they are not welcome in that business," John said. "If not, they will be penalized."
Vero asked what would be done with customers or employees who have legitimate medical reasons preventing them from wearing a mask.
"I don't know how you enforce it. Again, this is all news to us," he said.
Commissioners again expressed local residents had asked them about their plans to enforce the orders.
"Some residents are under the impression that (county commissioners) have enforcement authority. We do not," she said. "We don't have enforcement authority for anything (DeWine) stated last night."
She said the Bureau of Workers' Compensation and the Ohio Liquor Control Board both report to the governor.