BY SHELLEY TERRY
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, on Sunday issued a stay-at-home order requiring all Ohioans to stay in their homes to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
The order took effect Monday night and will remain in effect through April 6. The order prohibits holding gatherings of any size and closes all non-essential businesses.
It does not prohibit essential activities like going to the grocery store, receiving medical care or taking a pet for a walk.
“The Ashtabula County Health Department strongly urges all county residents to adhere to the Governor’s orders regarding social distancing and the avoidance of engaging in contact with groups of people,” said Ray Saporito, county health commissioner.
Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell said law enforcement does not want to give the impression of being “heavy handed” in any way. Police will not stop residents who are on their way to or from work or who are out for necessities like going to the pharmacy or getting groceries, or just taking a walk alone.
“If we see groups of people out, we will give a friendly reminder to distance themselves and encourage them to stay at home,” he said. “In the rare event that someone is purposely being non-compliant, we can charge them with a second-degree misdemeanor. It’s something we could do, but we prefer to just give guidance.”
The order is mandatory to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in Ohio, Stell said.
Essential services include grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, police and fire stations, hospitals, clinics, garbage/sanitation, public transportation and public benefits hotlines.
Anyone feeling sick should call a doctor, a nurse hotline, any tele-health hotline set up specifically for COVID-19 (check with your insurance company) or an urgent-care center. If you are experiencing symptoms or are in isolation, you should stay at home and follow the guidelines provided by your physician. Do not go to an emergency room unless necessary.
Non-essential medical care like eye exams and teeth-cleaning should be postponed. When possible, healthcare visits should be done remotely.
Unless work is an essential function people should stay home. People designated essential by their employer should continue to go to work and practice social distancing. Anyone experiencing symptoms or in isolation, should stay at home and follow the guidelines provided by a physician.
Local grocery delivery will be available as well as meal-delivery, drive-through restaurants and take-out options.
Public transportation and ride sharing should be used for essential travel only.
The roads will not be closed in Ohio but people should only travel if it is essential to work or health.
Planes and any other form of travel should only be used for essential purposes.
For the sake of safety, as well as the safety of the community, everyone should remain at home to help fight the spread of COVID-19. However people may travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons. If possible, drop off supplies, food, and medication to those relatives in need of assistance, but minimize interaction.
The courthouse in Jefferson is open, but offices are setting their own policies, according to Ashtabula County Commissioner J.P. Ducro IV.
“Everybody is trying to limit interaction as much as possible,” he said. “We are trying to encourage everybody with the ability to work electronically to work from home.”
Families can go outside, including to parks and outdoor spaces that remain open, and take a walk, run, or bike ride but should continue to practice social distancing by remaining six feet away from other people. Playgrounds are closed because they pose a high risk of increasing transmission.
Local school districts are continuing to support students by providing lunch in non-congregate settings. To find a meal site near you, use the Ohio Department of Education’s interactive map or check your local district’s website.
Ashtabula Area City Schools are providing a free USDA brown bag lunch for children this week and next from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at various sites throughout the city.
“That said, all essential areas must operate with social distancing practices, impeccable cleaning and sanitizing procedures, no congregating and work arrangements that separate everyone by six feet,” said Mark Astorino, AACS treasurer and chief financial officer.
The meals will be handed to students from a school bus and then should be taken home to eat.
Ashtabula County Commissioner Casey Kozlowski strongly recommends Ashtabula County residents follow the orders, which are made to protect them.
“I continue to carry out the essential functions myself as a county commissioner, but I’m taking necessary steps to ensure that I’m following the proposed rules,” he said. “The Ashtabula County commissioners are also taking action to protect our staff and limit public interaction as best we can while still carrying on essential operations.”