Restricted alcohol sales imminent as virus cases rise

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was expected Friday to issue an executive order limiting alcohol sales in bars and restaurants to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Republican governor’s executive order will ban alcohol sales after 10 p.m. and the consumption of any drinks purchased before then by 11 p.m.

The order, taking effect Friday, will also boost to three the number of alcoholic drinks that can be bought per takeout meal.

The restriction is necessary because social distancing worsens late at night in establishments selling alcohol, DeWine said Thursday when he announced the order. The governor said bars lend themselves to people being close to others for hours at a time, whether at one establishment or several as people bar hop.

“We do not want to shut down Ohio bars and restaurants. That would be devastating to them,” the governor said. “But we do have to take some kind of action and see what kind of results we get.”

A similar order in Columbus was struck down almost immediately by a judge, and legal challenges of the governor’s statewide order are also expected.

Such restrictions are difficult for an industry already suffering severe consequences because of the pandemic and earlier shutdown orders, the Ohio Restaurant Association said.

“For those businesses and their employees, this additional restriction will be devastating and will be very difficult for them to overcome,” the association said.

It urged state and local leaders to work with restaurants to expand outdoor dining, and to make contact tracing data available to measure which “sectors and activities” of the industry are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 cases remained high in Ohio on Friday, with the Health Department reporting 1,533 probable and confirmed cases. More than 91,000 total cases have been reported to date, and 3,489 people have died.

The prison system has been hard hit, and on Friday the state confirmed 23 death row inmates had tested positive in a flare-up that began just within the past week.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press