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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Cincinnati Officials: Free Metro Bus Fares Will End Soon

Ann Thompson

The free rides on Cincinnati Metro buses will be ending later this week. 

Mayor John Cranley and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) CEO Darryl Haley announced the change Monday.

Cranley said it was clear people were taking unnecessary trips on buses.

"And it was clear this weekend that many people took advantage of the free buses to come Downtown and to gather illegally in violation of state law," Cranley said. "That not only puts them at risk, but it puts bus drivers at risk to have more people at certain times on the bus at the same time."

Metro begin offering free fares last week as part of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Cranley said the option is still on the table to stop bus service if the problems continue. 

Metro fares will be charged once SORTA installs shields to protect drivers as riders are paying when they are getting on the buses.

Cranley and Police Chief Eliot Isaac also said the city will enforce the statewide stay-at-home order. 

There were reports of several large gatherings of people this weekend around the city, including one in Over-the-Rhine. Video of that party was shared widely on social media, and one person is now in jail facing charges for violating the stay-at-home order.

"This is life and death. This isn't a joke. This isn't a drill," Cranley said. "We will enforce the law. As we always do, we will do so carefully and sensitively, and we will always try to disperse before we do major enforcement actions."

Chief Isaac compared some officer's activity this weekend to the game Whac-a-Mole in their efforts trying to keep large parties from gathering.  And he said they are hearing about upcoming events.

"I understand that there are gatherings that are developing around the city," Isaac said. "We're actively attempting to encourage those individuals to not partake in that type of activity. I am happy to say that by and large we have received compliance."

The Cincinnati Police Department is also communicating with University of Cincinnati Police about several gathering near the UC campus.

Isaac said he's asking residents to be part of solution and help to keep everyone safe.

Meanwhile, 526 full-time city of Cincinnati employees are on four-week furloughs to save money. Those started Sunday and could be extended once the four weeks expire.

For now, 128 employees are using accumulated paid leave.  They will continue to do so until that time runs out. Too, 398 workers are not using accumulated time and are on unpaid status.  That allows them to draw unemployment, with the additional benefits that Congress approved as part of federal stimulus package.

City officials have not released information on the number of part-time workers who were furloughed, or the options they selected.

The city says it expects to save $2.08 million during the four-week furloughs, and $917,000 will be in the general fund which pay for basic city services.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.