An empty South Court and Union crosswalk, which would have been packed if students had returned from spring break like any other year, isn’t a good sign for workers at local businesses either. Photo by Terry Smith.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and other state officials announced Sunday that the Ohio Department of Health has issued a “stay at home” order, asking all Ohioans to shelter at home with a limited number of exceptions amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Leaving home for certain “essential activities” is permitted, defined by DeWine as travel necessary for: “health and safety,” necessary supplies and services, for “outdoor activity,” certain types of work (work that is deemed “essential”), and to take care of others. Groceries are considered “necessary supplies.”

In Athens, the order – which went into effect Monday night – has further reinforced what many already were doing, considering a previous order banning dine-in options for Ohio restaurants (although carry-out and delivery options are still going strong for many local restaurants). Still, some additional businesses on Court Street and elsewhere in Athens County have closed due to the more recent order and other economic complications from coronavirus containment measures.

 A copy of the order can be found here.

The list of essential businesses includes health-care and public health operations and essential government and infrastructure services, of course, but also:

• Stores that sell groceries and medicine.

• Restaurants for off-premises consumption.

• Food, beverage and licensed marijuana production and agriculture.

• Organizations that provide charitable and social services.

• Religious entities.

• Media – including newspapers, television and radio.

• First Amendment protected speech.

• Financial and insurance institutions.

• Hardware and supply stores.

• Critical trades – including building and construction trades.

• Educational institutions.

• Mail and delivery systems.

• Laundry services.

• Supplies to work from home.

• Hotels and motels.

• And several others (see page 6 of the order).

This news comes as Ohio has confirmed 704 cases of coronavirus infections and 10 deaths due to the virus (as of Wednesday afternoon – the update usually show up at 2 p.m.). The “stay-at-home” order (which some states are calling a “shelter-in-place” order) will extend through April 7. It will be re-evaluated at that time, DeWine said.

As of Wednesday morning, coronavirus cases had been confirmed in 55 counties in Ohio, but relatively few have been confirmed in southeast Ohio, and none in Athens County.

Still, Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton said during a press conference Tuesday that the numbers confirmed by the state so far are reflective of places where testing is more available and is processed quicker. She added that there are likely far more cases of the coronavirus in Ohio than the confirmed numbers; she said Ohio is preserving its testing kits for people who are highest-risk of death or serious complications due to the coronavirus (see story about local testing on page 20).

“It doesn’t give the fairest representation of what’s happening for instance in southeast Ohio,” she said. “Some of that’s lagging.”

Still, as of Wednesday morning one case had been confirmed in Gallia County (with one confirmed in that County) and one confirmed case in Washington County

Acton said during the press conference that “there’s no time left to act,” citing the large coronavirus death toll and number of cases in Italy.

Anyone who violates the stay-at-home order could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, DeWine said, adding that that order can be enforced by local health departments and local law enforcement, though he said he didn’t expect many actual arrests to occur.

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