(The Center Square) – On paper, it looks like two of the biggest and profitable nights for bars and restaurants throughout Ohio. In reality, it could be a disaster.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, capacity limits and Gov. Mike DeWine’s refusal to adjust a statewide curfew, bars normally crowded for hours to watch the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs Sunday night and The Ohio State Buckeyes in the national championship game Monday night will likely be more empty than packed with football fans.

The Cleveland Browns, making an NFL playoff appearance for the first time in 18 years, play at rival Pittsburgh on Sunday night at 8:15.

Then, on Monday night, The Ohio State Buckeyes play for the national championship in Miami against Alabama, with kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m.

In a letter sent earlier this week to Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, the Ohio Restaurant Associated asked for a curfew extension until midnight Sunday and Monday, saying it would be a financial and emotional lift for businesses.

“Bartenders and servers have taken the brunt of the reduced hours and social distancing requirements,” the letter said. “Guests are already seated for the first half of the game and with a two-hour extension they could watch the games in their entirety.”

DeWine said case numbers were enough to justify keeping the curfew in place. On Tuesday, the state reported 7,580 COVID-19 cases, slightly above the 21-day average. Deaths rose from a 21-day average of 76 to 104, and both hospitalizations and ICU admissions were above the averages.

“Look, there’s nothing more that I would like to do that just say, ‘Look, no restrictions on bars, everybody go back to normal,’ but we’re not back to normal,” DeWine said. “I understand we have people hurting and I understand that we have a great desire for people to go to a bar and root on the Buckeyes and root on the Browns, but that would simply add to the spread we already have.”

DeWine first enacted the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew Nov. 19 for three weeks. Since then, it has been extended twice and is scheduled to expire Jan. 23. It does not apply to people going to or from work, getting groceries or a carryout meal, going to the hospital or in an emergency situation. Drive-thru and delivery retail business can continue after 10 p.m. Grocery stores and pharmacies are not forced to close.

The association, in the letter, asked for the curfew to permanently end when it expires Jan. 23, citing national data and a Wall Street Journal article that showed in New York state contact tracing linked to private gatherings produced 74 percent of COVID-19 transmissions, while only 1.4 percent was linked to bars and restaurants.

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