Dewine press conference

Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during a recent press conference on COVID-19. (File photo)

COLUMBUS — Bars and restaurants around Ohio must close Sunday night at 9, according to Gov. Mike DeWine, citing the need for improved social distancing due to coronavirus.

The governor, in a Sunday afternoon press conference, said he received texts and emails from people showing crowded bars and restaurants from Saturday night, prompting the need for more drastic action. 

"This may look like drastic action, and I guess it is. But we're taking these steps to save lives," DeWine said. 

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"I can't tell you how sorry I am. Our goal is for everyone to get through this."

DeWine, who previously ordered gatherings of no more than 100 people, said he was concerned with St. Patrick's Day gatherings coming up Tuesday that he must act now to enforce social distancing.

"What we wish is the next St. Patrick's Day, everyone will be there and have the opportunity to celebrate and have the opportunity to live their life and live their American dream," he said. "But if people are not around, they can't do that."

DeWine said carry-out and delivery options are still available for restaurants, and encouraged people not to stop patronizing these establishments. 

"If you can walk in and buy a doughnut, buy a coffee, and walk out, that's OK," DeWine said. "What we can't have is people congregating and people who are seated." 

The governor said he didn't know how long the closures would last.

In the meantime, DeWine will sign an executive order assisting Ohio workers directly impacted by the COVID-19 emergency. The order will enable workers who do not have paid leave benefits to access unemployment benefits during this period of emergency. 

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted explained the order would broaden the current state policy to clarify that individuals quarantined by a health professional or by their employer will be considered unemployed. The order also applies to companies who decide it's necessary to temporarily shut down during this emergency. 

"We will expedite payments to impacted Ohioans and waive the 1-week delay for eligible workers to receive their first week's unemployment payment," Husted said. "We don't want to penalize employers...the cost of these additional benefits will be mutualized." 

To compensate for the economic impact of these closures, Husted stated businesses and not-for-profits will be able to apply for low-interest loans of up to $2 million for assistance to overcome temporary losses of revenue. 

"These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, and other bills that can't be paid during the disaster's impact," Husted said. 

"We know what we're all going through together will have a tremendous economic impact. This is our fist step in trying to account for the disruptions in business, and we will continue to work with the businesses of Ohio and their leadership to develop services and programs to get us through this very difficult time."  

On March 12, DeWine ordered the state's schools to close for at least three weeks following the end of the school day on Monday, due to continuing concerns about coronavirus. He did not expand on that order during Sunday's announcement, but cautioned more changes could come in the future. 

"I've advised the school districts they should be prepared for this to last for an extended period of time," the governor said. "We hope kids are back in school as soon as possible, but the odds are three weeks is not going to do it. 

"At this time it's certainly likely to be extended, although we do not know when that is." 

According to Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, as of 2 p.m. on Sunday there were 36 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around Ohio and 350 people under investigation. No deaths have been reported yet.

"The cases are just the tip of the iceberg," Acton said. "Many cases are undetected, and there are many asymptomatic people. Each and every one of us should expect we have it or might be carrying it. Be assured, it's already amongst us." 

City Editor Carl Hunnell contributed to this article.