A Franklin County judge has blocked an ordinance mandating Columbus restaurants, bars and nightclubs close at 10 p.m. nightly, starting July 28.
For the time being, those establishments will be allowed to stay open.
Columbus City Council voted July 27 to order restaurants, bars and nightclubs to close at 10 p.m. nightly to attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Columbus bar and restaurant owners filed the lawsuit against the ordinance July 28, which sought a temporary restraining order against the ordinance, and an injunction preventing its enforcement, local media reported.
Judge Mark Serrott sided with the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit against the city of Columbus and Columbus Public Health, explaining it was "arbitrary" to punish bars and restaurants, when other activities in Columbus still spread the virus, local media reported. A full hearing is to occur in about two weeks, if Gov. Mike DeWine does not announce new state orders related to the issue before then.
Franklin County has seen 15,862 COVID-19 cases since the virus hit Ohio in March as of July 27, with cases starting to spike again at the end of June.
The reduction of times of operation for bars, nightclubs and restaurants is to limit exposure, as exemptions to existing public health orders allow patrons to forgo face coverings for extended periods of time while seated at bars and tables and eating and drinking, a city news release announcing the ordinance said.
The ordinance was proposed by Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts.
The new health order would not limit the capacity of bars and restaurants, so long as social distancing and other mandated health precautions are maintained and does not impact outdoor dining or carryout operations.
Columbus Public Health was to enforce the order. It includes a warning for the first violation. A fine of $500 would be levied for a second violation and $1,000 for subsequent offenses. Repeat violations could subject owners/operators to injunctive action to close the establishment.
Columbus is among 11 cities urged by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to take “aggressive” steps to combat the spread of COVID-19.
When first announced last week, the ordinance was to take effect at 11 p.m. nightly, but was shifted to an hour earlier July 27 because of the continued case spike.
“Our city, like many others across the country, are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, and there is clear evidence of community spread – especially indoors in places where groups are gathering,” Ginther said in a news release. “We’re also seeing a clear increase among younger people, and we know that bars and nightclubs have been the source of outbreaks locally. We need to take steps now to help stop the spread of the virus. We all need to do better for the health and safety of our neighbors.”
Based on recent data which shows an increase in diagnosed cases of COVID-19, and increased positivity test rate indicating community spread, and considering the guidance from orders issued by the Ohio Department of Health and Gov. Mike DeWine, Columbus Public Health determined it the best interest of public health to place restrictions on bars, night clubs and restaurants to limit exposure to COVID-19, the release said.
“We are at a critical point in our fight against COVID-19 which continues to spread and increase in our community,” Roberts said in the release. “We must use every tool at our disposal to prevent the spread of disease. Shortening the time that people gather in groups will help reduce the risk not only to those who participate, but the entire community. This reduction – along with face coverings, social distancing and hand washing – will help protect health and save lives.”