White woman with her hair pulled back

Dr. Amy Acton

Gov. Dewine, Lt. Gov. Husted, and Dr. Acton,

First off I want to thank you for your diligent work to keep myself and the rest of the state of Ohio safe during these unprecedented and strange times. When historians look back on this period in American history, all three of you—and the many people on the ground working for your administration—will be fondly remembered for your compassionate, logical, and careful work. I am particularly impressed by Dr. Acton’s ability to not only speak truth to power, but to explain complex, scientific ideas and data to a general audience. As someone who has spent a lot of time in higher education, both at the undergrad and grad levels, I am infinitely impressed by this trait. Your press conferences have brought confidence, truthfulness, and science to the forefront of the conversation on how Ohio can overcome this frightening enemy.

Though like many Ohioans I am currently unemployed due to the pandemic, I have worked in restaurants my whole life, and up until the governor gave his order on March 15th, I was working full time at a fast-paced and busy restaurant in the Short North Arts District in Columbus. While I have worked at numerous restaurants the last fifteen years, I have worked on and off for this particular establishment for over ten. I love my job: many of my coworkers are like family, and I count many regulars as friends. I would love to return to work, and I would love to go back to a new sense of normalcy.

However, as you all know, this virus is still here. I know numerous people—some here in Ohio—who have caught the virus, some of whom have been hospitalized. My neighbor, who I share laundry, garage, and hallway space with, being one of them. Clearly this virus will not just disappear, as some may think, and continues to be an imminent threat.

I write to you to bring to your attention the situation in regards to the opening of bars and restaurants. Specifically, just the other day, as I hope you have already seen, there was numerous reports (with photo and video evidence) that indicate just how hard and potentially dangerous the opening process for this sector of our economy will be. This video and photo evidence, along with many anecdotes and news reports, indicates that a large amount of the patrons of a bar—and even some of the staff itself—not only have disregarded your recommendations and rules, but have gone out of their way to mock those who find grave danger and offense to these happenings. If you would like to see some of that evidence, I can follow up with you.

In all honesty, I have many thoughts about this situation. However, as an employee of a bar and restaurant just a few blocks away from this specific event, I am most appalled by the disregard shown not just for the people who are forced to be at work—whether due to not being able to collect unemployment benefits, or for fear of losing their job—but for the general sanctity of communal life. While many of the patrons and workers at this establishment looked to be young and healthy (though of course many will have underlying conditions that are not visible), there are many, many more who will come in contact who are at much higher a risk.

My question then for the three of you—and please excuse me for my frankness—is this: how would you react if one of these patrons or an employee who took part in the other night’s event was one of your children, grandchildren, or someone you know directly? Would you feel that this constitutes not just a slip up or minor offense, but a grave danger to your loved ones? Would you be okay with a routine health check-up of the business and nothing more, knowing that your own family and friends were possibly put in danger?

Additionally, this event highlights a larger problem of how the rules and guidelines, and implementation of such, will be put into place and enforced. While there are many businesses who are trying very hard to make this work for the most amount of people, I suspect that there are just as many who will cut corners to make a bigger profit, or who just downright don’t care. This I believe to be the case not only from my experience in the industry, and my recent exposure to what is happening in the present, but also from the non-inclusion of the bartenders, servers, and other customer-facing operational staff on the restaurant working group. I know for a fact that there are many employees who do not feel safe with the current guidelines, nor how soon things are opening up in general. But this is not for me to decide, and I hope my speculation will ultimately be proven wrong.

In conclusion, I want to again thank you for all your hard work. But I do want to emphasize the challenges ahead, especially in the opening of bars and restaurants. I implore you: be available to the voices of those of us on the “front lines” of this industry, who are working just as hard as anyone to overcome the challenges ahead, and who in many cases are incredibly fearful about returning to work. And do not downplay the significance of this one event and all that it signifies—this is, in all likelihood, just the beginning of perhaps the hardest phase of this time yet. If you truly believe your rules and guidelines are correct, and are grounded in truth and science, then you must do better in enforcing them, and include more voices in the decision making process.

A lifelong restaurant worker, concerned citizen, and fellow Ohioan,

Alexander M. DeTillio