Curious Cbus: Does Ohio Still Have A Ban On Mass Gatherings?
Ohio's restrictions and guidelines around COVID-19 have changed tremendously since the governor issued his first public health orders last March. As part of WOSU’s A Year Of COVID series, we asked readers what questions they still had about the pandemic and the state's response.
Reader Adam Leeds sent in this question: Does Ohio still have a ban on mass gatherings?
The short answer is yes. Ohio may have ended its stay-at-home order and canceled the nightly curfew, but the ban on “mass gatherings” remains in place.
Under the most recent public health order from the Ohio Department of Health, Ohioans are prohibited from holding “all public and private gatherings of greater than 10 people” outside of their home or place of residence.
A version of that mass gathering ban has been in place since March 2020, with public health officials agreeing that avoiding crowds is one of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. Still, Ohio has made several exceptions to that “mass gathering” ban, such as weddings, funerals, and First Amendment-protected activities like religious services and protests.
Ohio last updated its orders on events on March 2, 2021, permitting event spaces like banquet halls and caterers to open to more than 300 people. That opens the door to school proms, larger wedding and funeral receptions, and even graduation parties this spring, provided they follow existing health guidelines on indoor dining like requiring attendees to wear face masks when they’re not “actively consuming” food or beverages.
Sports and entertainment venues were also granted more slack, with a health order allowing them to welcome spectators at 25% capacity indoors or 30% capacity outdoors – significantly more than previously allowed.
While Ohioans aren’t prevented from holding gatherings in the privacy of their own home, Columbus Public Health commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts cautions that “there’s a lot of thought and planning” that goes into reopening event venues.
Those businesses must subscribe to strict criteria for air circulation, and formulate plans for crowd movement and ticketed seating, such as grouping people in “pods” to allow for easier contact tracing – all things that can't be assured at house parties or clubs.
“I don’t want people to think that we just opened up the door and said, ‘We can have spectators,’” Roberts says.
Ohio isn't likely to drop the mass gathering ban anytime soon. Last Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine promised that he will lift all remaining COVID-19 public health orders "when Ohio gets down to 50 cases per 100,000 people for two weeks." Currently, Ohio is at a rate of 179 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, although that number has fallen fast since December.
In the meantime, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer of the Ohio Department of Health, had this advice for gatherings: "The keys to staying safe in the face of COVID-19 remain masking, keeping our distance, practicing hand hygiene, good ventilation, and avoiding crowds. And, whenever possible, hold events outdoors."
What lingering questions do you have about COVID-19, the vaccines, or Ohio's response? Ask below and WOSU may answer as part of our A Year Of COVID series.