Essential or not? That’s the question

And it can be one that is not easily answered

LISBON — The county sheriff’s office and county health department have received calls from workers questioning whether their employer should remain open after Gov. Mike DeWine’s ordered all “non-essential” businesses close starting March 24.

Other complaints have focused on whether the company that remains open is taking the necessary precautions to protect it workers from the spread of the coronavirus.

Sheriff Ray Stone said as of Wednesday he received three complaints, one of which was passed on to the appropriate police department since the business was located in that particular community. The other two fell within the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office, and he referred those complaints to the county health department for further review.

The governor’s stay-home order closed “non-essential” businesses. While the order listed what businesses are considered “essential,” it was less specific when identifying which are deemed “non-essential.” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted later said a business should make the determination instead of asking local law enforcement and health department or the state.

The order did make it clear businesses that remain open are required to protect its workforce by taking steps to combat the spread of the coronavirus, such as making soap and hand sanitizer readily available to wash hands, practicing safe distancing and avoid gathering in large groups. Violations should be reported to local law enforcement or the health department and could result in second-degree misdemeanor charges being filed.

Stone said he is letting county Health Commissioner Wes Vins investigate the complaints received by his office and then advise him whether any charges need filed. He said that has yet to happen.

Vins said they have received complaints from concerned workers as well as inquiries from employers seeking clarification about whether they are a “non-essential” business. In regard to employee complaints, he said they check with the company to determine what has been done to protect the workforce and work with them to make improvements. This approach appears to be working.

“There may be a time for a heavy-handed approach … but it’s too early in the process,” Vins said. “If we have someone blatantly ignoring the governor’s order, that’s another matter.”

The health department also spoke to companies unsure if they are a “non-essential” business. Vins said they tell those company officials to ask themselves whether the goods produced or the services they provide are essential. Some companies haven chosen to temporarily suspend operations.

“This is a bit of a judgment call” in some cases, he said.


Healthy reminder

Late Friday, county Health Commissioner Wes Vins issued a notice reminding businesses that remain open they are required to comply with minimum health measures enacted by order of the state health commissioners. These include enforcing the six-foot social distancing requirement, allow workers to work from home when possible, encourage employees to stay home if sick and send them home if they are ill, implement a flexible sick-leave policy, encourage a daily self-assessment of employee health, frequently clean surfaces, and reinforce key health messaging. “Both employer and employee of an essential business are equally responsible to adhere to the requirements of this order,” Vins said.


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