Mayor threatens to shut down Oregon District outdoor drinking, says pandemic behavior ‘unacceptable’

Faced with an “alarming” increase in local coronavirus cases, Dayton’s mayor and public health officials say they are fully prepared to shut down outdoor drinking in the Oregon District if people don’t follow proper safety measures.

Photos circulated online this week showing packed crowds outside some of the Oregon District bars on Saturday night. Many people pictured were not wearing masks or staying six feet apart.

Citizens forwarded the photos to the mayor, city leaders and public health officials.

If unsafe crowds gather this weekend and people don’t take steps to stay safe in the Oregon District, the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) and Out on Fifth will be forced to close, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

ExploreDayton mayor warns ‘hammer’ is needed to combat COVID

“The behavior we’ve seen last week at the DORA is simply unacceptable,” Whaley said.

Montgomery County’s COVID-19 rates are higher than the state average.

The county has been at the highest red level longer than any other of the state’s 88 counties, said Health Commissioner Jeff Cooper, with Public Health ― Dayton & Montgomery County.

On Thursday, Ohio again broke its daily record for new cases with 2,178. It was the second time more than 2,000 cases were reported in a day and the third time Ohio broke its daily case record in a week.

For Montgomery County, the test positivity is approaching 5%, while the state’s average is 4%, Cooper said.

“We are higher than the state average in terms of test positivity," Cooper said. “The frustrating part is that we were headed in the right direction as a community for many months."

There are now more than 150 new cases per day reported to the local health department.

“We are trending in the wrong direction, and it’s important that the community know that,” Cooper said. “We can do better than that.”

Community spread is behind the increased rates.

Whaley said she was made aware of people in the Oregon District’ DORA not following guidelines of social distancing and wearing masks.

“There are pictures of folks that are next to each other with no masks," she said.

A photo of police talking to a street band in the Oregon District in early October. Crowding in the Oregon District was a major problem on Saturday night. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

She said that if there is not a considerable change of behavior, this weekend “we will shut down the DORA for its final week.”

Out on Fifth is supposed to last through the end of the month. The program shuts down Fifth Street in the Oregon District to allow for patio expansions and seating and tables in the street.

Closing the street provides a lot more room for people to spread out and enjoy drinks and food outdoors. The DORA allows for people to bring alcohol purchased at bars in the district outside on the street for consumption.

Whaley said they also will shut down other areas and activities if people congregate unsafely.

However, Whaley did say it was not all doom and gloom.

She said she knows people in Dayton and the county know what to do to reverse the trend. It requires simple interventions like wearing masks, practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing and avoiding large gatherings, officials said.

Cooper said health officials will be out this weekend at the DORA to monitor for compliance.

Cooper said the county was able to bring down the number of cases to 108 cases per 100,000 residents from Sept. 16 to Sept 29. But then, cases rose to 138 per 100,000 residents. Today, the county is at 186 cases per 100,000 population.

Sarah Hackenbracht of the Greater Dayton Hospital Association said hospitals are at their peak for hospitalizations since they began with COVID-19. The good news is that treatments have advanced, but that there is concern as cases increase on the cusp of the annual flu season.

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