At some point, businesses in Ohio have to reopen. People need to go back to work. Students must return to classrooms. But the decision to reopen businesses, schools and other public places must be guided by science and the best data available from health experts. Relaxing protective measures too early could lead to a new spike in COVID-19 cases, wiping out the hard-earned gains of the past month and costing more lives.

Ohio has fared better than many states in terms of coronavirus cases (7,280) and deaths (324) through Tuesday afternoon. Original forecast models used by Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton predicted a peak of 10,000 new COVID-19 cases per day by mid-April. Those projections have dropped sharply in recent days to 1,607 new cases per day.

Credit Gov. Mike DeWine and Acton’s quick, no-nonsense decisions to close schools, bars and restaurants, cancel events and issue a stay-at-home order. The best science and medical data available guided those policy decisions, and they should continue to be DeWine’s primary influencers.

Ohio’s economy cannot limp along forever, however. Big businesses are losing millions of dollars and some small businesses might not reopen at all once this crisis has abated. Thousands of Ohioans have been laid off or furloughed from their jobs. The longer restrictions remain in place, the tougher the slog back to solid financial footing will be for many.

But the big question is how and when can the governor reopen Ohio safely without sacrificing the gains made so far? The highly contagious virus is still a conundrum to doctors and scientists, testing and protective equipment remain woefully inadequate and a vaccine could be at least a year away. All these factors make nailing down a specific timetable for reopening the economy difficult.

Removing the stay-at-home order too soon could have dire consequences as places such as Hong Kong are finding out. At the beginning of March, Hong Kong seemed to have the virus under control, with just 100 cases. The city returned to life as normal, but by the end of the month saw the number of COVID-19 cases jump back up to 715, prompting the government to impose new restrictions.

There is a chance Ohio could see similar flare-ups of the disease if we open up too many places too soon. Reopening businesses only to have to close them again in a few weeks because of a surge in the number of cases could be just as devastating as the present course.

DeWine is right to slow-walk us back into a sense of normalcy. People have to be confident the virus is under control in order to come out and start using services again. Any plan to reopen the state’s economy must be done in collaboration with our neighbors in Kentucky and Indiana. Poor planning and a lack of caution in one place affects us all.

Economic and business experts should have a voice at the table too, but the governor must hold them accountable for having plans for sanitation, social distancing and other measures to protect their customers and employees before any restrictions are removed. And while hospital capacity is not an issue right now, DeWine must ensure that our hospitals and health care systems are prepared for possible spikes when economic activity revs up.

— Cincinnati Enquirer