COLUMBUS (WCMH) – The start of Buckeyes football season isn’t just an exciting time for fans. Local bar and restaurant owners are also excited. Thursday night’s season opener was the first Ohio State football game since the 2019 season that bars could operate without social distancing restrictions.
“Having game days now is going to be amazing,” said Dan Starek, owner of Oldfield’s and Leo’s.
With the health and safety rules in place last season, Starek says business at Leo’s was down 80% during the football season. Thursday’s the Buckeyes played on the road and at night. Starek says given the circumstances, that’s beneficial.
“It sounds weird but I’m kind of happy it’s an away game and a night game because it might be a little slower than a noon Saturday game and it gives us a stepping stone to see how things are going to be for next week,” he said. “Again, we haven’t done this in 530 some odd days, a big game day, its actually going to be nice to ease into it.”
The beginning of the season comes as Ohio and the country deals with another surge of COVID-19 cases. Starek says he’s noticed more people at his establishments making the choice to wear masks. That’s the kind of behavior the Columbus Public Health Commissioner wants to see.
“Our recommendation would be if you’re in a crowded indoor location you should be wearing a mask and even if you’re in a crowded outdoor location you should be wearing a mask,” said Dr. Mysheika Roberts, Health Commissioner of Columbus Public Health. “But I realize that when you’re watching a game you’re probably also eating and drinking. So it’s kind of hard to do all of that at the same time, eat, drink, and wear a mask. So, we want people to use their best judgment.
A mask advisory is still in place. Several bars in the campus and the Short North area were busy Thursday night.
“I definitely understand the excitement, but I also want to just manage people’s expectations that we are still in the midst of a pandemic,” said Dr. Roberts. “This is not something to take lightly, we want you to have fun, we want you to enjoy your life, but we also want you to understand the risk involved, particularly if you’re not vaccinated.”