In response to Ohio’s Stay at Home order, the Union County Health Department is fielding questions surrounding what is considered an essential business.
Following Gov. Mike DeWine and ODH Director Amy Acton’s announcement Sunday, UCHD Public Information Officer Jennifer Thrush said many employers and employees have contacted the agency for clarity.
Between phone calls, emails and social media messages, Thrush said UCHD received more than 75 questions about the order Monday.
About 60% of calls were from businesses and about 40% from employees, Thrush said. As the week has progressed, she said UCHD is receiving a higher volume of calls from employees.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said Wednesday public health agencies throughout the state are experiencing a similar influx.
“Please do not call law enforcement, the health department or the COVID-19 helpline to ask for advice on if you are an essential business,” he included in an online statement. “Business owners must read the order and make their own judgements.”
Thrush said she feels there is a common misunderstanding that the health department “is just going to show up and close businesses.”
“That’s not the role” of UCHD, she said.
Instead, business owners are given the discretion to decide whether they are essential or not, according to the published order.
If employers believe their business is essential, Thrush said they should create a document that explains what exemption they fall under and how they are meeting the requirements of a safe workplace.
She said UCHD staff is walking many employers through “the spirit” of the Stay at Home order to help determine if they are “truly essential.”
“The overarching goal is to get as many Ohioans as possible to stay home,” Thrush said.
Accordingly, Thrush said many of the employees have reached out to express disagreement with their employer’s choice to stay open.
UCHD takes note of complaints from employees, Thrush said, and follows up with businesses to ask for the documentation they’ve created.
She said the health department’s sanitarians have now moved away from their normal activities to conduct these follow ups. They are also doing spot-checks on local restaurants, bars and recreation centers to ensure there are no “mass congregations.”
Thrush emphasized that even essential businesses are required to create safe environments that practice social distancing.
If a business is found to be in violation of this portion of the order, she said UCHD “approaches it like we do with food service.”
The agency’s sanitarians are conducting check-ins because they deal with similar enforcements every day, Thrush explained.
She said UCHD staff starts with “an educational perspective” and assumes the violation is a misunderstanding by the business. If the violation progresses, she said agency staff will make more frequent visits in an attempt to enforce regulations.
Since the goal of the order is not to close down any businesses forcibly, Thrush said UCHD is working with the agency’s legal team to determine what further action would be taken if a violation became “egregious.”
Thrush said UCHD is working closely with employers to help them complete risk assessments.
She said public health officials understand the economic impact of temporarily closing, but encourage businesses to avoid greater risks.
In the case an employee tested positive for COVID-19, Thrush said all close contacts will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days following the last known exposure. She said this could cause some businesses to lose their entire staff.
“The decision you make today could have the potential to impact your business far beyond two weeks,” Thrush said.
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