MOUNT VERNON – Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday afternoon he will seek to end liquor sales after 10 p.m. each evening in the state's bars, in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
During the same press conference, DeWine said Knox County will remain "orange," or level two, in the statewide Public Health Advisory System. Knox County moved from level one to two last week as cases began to surge.
Richland County moved down two levels this week – from "red" to "yellow" – as it triggered just one of the seven indicators that guide the state's alert system. Last week, it had triggered four.
Delaware County moved down one level this week, from "red" to "orange." Coshocton County went from "orange" to "yellow."
Licking County remained "red," Holmes County remained "orange," and Ashland and Morrow counties remained "yellow."
Statewide, there were 13 "red," or level three, counties this week, down from 23 a week ago. DeWine said more counties worsened to orange this week.
Masks remain mandatory statewide when in public, regardless of the level in a county.
With regards to the state's bars, the governor said he has asked the Ohio Liquor Control Commission to call an emergency meeting Friday at 9 a.m. to consider enacting an emergency rule that would end sales at 10 p.m. with consumption done by 11 p.m.
He said he would approve such a rule Friday and that it would take effect Friday night.
DeWine said he continues to have "grave concerns" about the spread of COVID-19 at bars, including outbreaks associated with those establishments across Ohio, including Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus.
"The problem is, bars, by their nature, lend themselves to a revolving door of people in close contact, oftentimes indoors. Patrons either stay at one location, sometimes for hours or bar hop. Either way, they interact with many different people - especially the younger crowd," the governor said.
DeWine said shutting down bars and restaurants, as the state did in March, would "be devastating" to those businesses.
"The businesses can stay open – but we believe that stopping alcohol sales at 10 o’clock for onsite consumption will help thin out the crowd and help slow the spread," he said.
DeWine was asked about school reopenings in the weeks ahead and he said it remains a decision best made by local school boards and districts, though he made it clear there are no guarantees.
'"These are tough decisions. There is no easy answer to them. We don't know where this virus will be in three weeks or a month when schools open up. It's possible this decision will be taken away from us by the virus itself. I have not put my thumb on the scale at this point," he said.
DeWine made no mention Thursday of high school sports returning this fall and was not asked about it by the media.
DeWine also announced the Ohio Pharmacy Board had reversed its ban on the usage of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19, a request he made Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, the board issued a memo barring pharmacists, licensed distributors of drugs and medical institutions from prescribing the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent the novel coronavirus.
Saying the board's decision-making process was "fundamentally flawed," DeWine said he has asked the pharmacy board and the Ohio Medical Board to "thoroughly look" at the issue and seek expert advice before making a final decision.
At the beginning of the press conference, DeWine said there were 1,733 new positive COVID-19 tests in the last 24 hours, a new daily high, breaking the previous high of 1,679 established July 17.
He said there were 125 additional hospitalizations (above the 21-day state average of 100), 20 deaths (one below the average of 21) and 21 new ICU admissions (three above the average of 18.)