Cincinnati City Council has approved an ordinance changing how the city enforces state health orders.
Right now, it's a criminal offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $750. The city would instead switch to civil fines ranging from $75 to $500. If fines did not solve any problems, criminal penalties could still be sought.
The change comes as the health department will begin inspecting businesses in the city to make sure they are following state safety guidelines as they reopen. They'll primarily focus on physical distancing between people in a business, making sure all employees are wearing face coverings, and that hand sanitizer is available for both employees and customers.
The city's health department said any enforcement will start with warnings. Officials said the goal is educating business owners on safety guidelines. They said businesses will be given time to comply before citations are issued.
Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman said a council committee needs to oversee how the health department is doing enforcement
"This body has an understanding of any citation by neighborhood, by business, so that you as the chairman are getting information," Smitherman said. "So that if we feel that we're uncomfortable - across our 52 neighborhoods - that we see a pattern that we're uncomfortable with, we can immediately be responsive to it."
Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld said in the end the public will play an important role in the reopening process for businesses.
"I think of this as reliant on asking small businesses to be responsible to do the right thing for public health," Sittenfeld said. "And ultimately on us as consumers who get to vote with our wallet and with our feet. And we cannot go to a place that we think is endangering our health or other public health. That's going to be the ultimate solution to this."
Several retail stores were allowed to reopen Tuesday. Restaurants can resume outdoor service Friday, and hair salons, barbershops, and tattoo shops can reopen, too.
Council Member David Mann had some concerns the city is not doing enough to communicate with restaurants that will be opening Friday.
"I'm thinking about the fact that for the first time in two months, in the midst of a pandemic, we're opening restaurants for outdoor service, and you say we're waiting for complaints," Mann said. "There's something wrong with this picture. I would think that there would be outreach number one, and number two, that there would be a presence when the service begins."
City Council also approved another ordinance to protect employees in the city from being terminated or demoted because they've been told by a doctor or contact tracer to stay at home for 14 days because of concerns about COVID-19. It would also apply to caring for a dependent who was ordered to stay home.