PORTSMOUTH- When the clock struck one minute past midnight on Wednesday morning, it also marked the end of most health orders in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Businesses in Portsmouth, like those throughout Ohio, therefore had decisions to make as how to operate with mitigation efforts such as mask mandates and social distancing for the vaccinated are no longer required.
For Brenda Mcelroy of Helen’s Bakery in Market Square, the announcement was welcomed good news. Business has continued just fine through the pandemic for the cookies, muffins, and baked goods shop, but she expects it to only get better without the health orders.
“We’re great with it,” she said, with the bakery since its opening in July 2019. “I think it’s great for both us and our customers.”
Mario Fuentes, owner of El Toro Loco, hopes the end of the health orders will increase the progress in the Mexican restaurant’s return to normal. Over time, more customers have dined-in at the Washington Street location he said, as earlier in the pandemic most business was from carryout.
Still, he would like to see even more customers and is optimistic that will be the case soon. Over the coming days, Fuentes said plastic barriers between tables will be removed and larger parties will be allowed.
“We want everyone that comes in here to be comfortable,” he said, having spent the last 18 years as the restaurant owner.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced these changes last month in addition to creating the “Ohio Vax-a-Million” lottery, where those vaccinated and registered 18 and older Ohioans could receive $1 million in a weekly drawing. Those vaccinated under 17 are eligible for full, four-year scholarships to any state university.
His announcement came before the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance for those fully vaccinated. The CDC now says those fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks with exceptions for when visiting healthcare settings, taking public transportation, or in an area that still requires people to do so.
“Regardless of the new CDC guidance, this fact remains clear: The most powerful thing anyone can do to end this pandemic is to get vaccinated,” DeWine said in a released statement.
How the end of the state mandates would effect the city was first discussed during the Portsmouth City Council session on May 24 when City Auditor Trent Williams asked City Solicitor John Haas about the city’s mask mandate in place since July.
Haas said a question had been brought up whether a new ordinance would be needed to repeal the current legislation. Such a process would not be necessary he said since the city ordinance contained a clause that would change it when the state changed its mask mandate.
“I thought I might do a resolution just to make it clear, but I’m doing that right now,” he said. “Our ordinance now has basically adopted the governor’s recommendation.”
In subsequent council sessions, the next set for June 14, City Clerk Diana Ratliff told the Portsmouth Daily Times that a sign will be present asking for the non-vaccinated to wear masks while in the city building. Council will continue to social distance through June before returning to its normal setup in July.
With 40% of the state and less than 32% of those in Scioto County fully vaccinated according to Ohio Department of Health data, public health experts and DeWine continue to push for more to take the vaccine.
“Ohioans have done a great job during the pandemic. And, with more than five million Ohioans who have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, we are getting back to living the lives we want,” DeWine said on Tuesday. “However, it is important that we all still remember that there are a significant number of Ohioans who remain unvaccinated and are at-risk, including everyone under the age of 12. It’s important that those not fully vaccinated continue to wear masks indoors and follow other preventative measures to keep themselves as healthy as possible.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter. © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.