Normally around this time of year, Jess Norman would be getting ready for the annual spring community sale in Merion Village.

She might be gathering some of her stuff, helping her mother set up potted plants to sell or, as president of the Merion Village Association, making sure that all is ready for patrons who make the rounds at the dozens of homes in the Columbus neighborhood that participate.

But not this year.

Last month, the neighborhood postponed indefinitely its spring sale because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"If things were to improve, we would love to potentially hold it in the summer," Norman said. "... Ultimately, it all comes down to keeping everyone safe.

"We certainly couldn't find a way to do this in a manner that would be safe for everyone involved."

Franklin County Public Health director Joe Mazzola said the village association did the right thing, and other community organizations and individual homeowners must do the same.

"Right now, garage sales are not an essential business. They're not an essential service," Mazzola said. "At this point, it's not worth the risk of having a crowd of people coming to your home. ... We would insist that garage sales not be held at this time."

As defined by state law, Franklin County Public Health provides service to all townships and villages in Franklin County. In addition, 14 cities in Franklin and Fairfield counties contract with the agency to serve as their health department and provide comprehensive public-health services to residents.

Those communities include Bexley, Canal Winchester, Dublin, Gahanna, Grandview Heights, Grove City, Groveport, Hilliard, New Albany, Pickerington, Reynoldsburg, Upper Arlington, Westerville and Whitehall. The agency supplies only plumbing-oversight services to the city of Worthington.

With the restriction on sales, some people are selling multiple items individually on Facebook neighborhood sites or other types of online sales services. Officials said buyers are urged to use caution, ask questions and determine whether items are sanitized as much as can be before purchase.

The ban on public rummage sales means thousands of people won't be walking the sidewalks of German Village in a couple of weeks in search of bargains at Village Valuables.

They won't be driving around Worthington Hills or other subdivisions, checking out neighborhood sales that usually are held each year in late April and early May.

And they won't be waiting until the final hours of the sales at the Linworth United Methodist Church or any other congregation or community to pay half price or fill a bag with leftovers.

No garage, yard, porch or other rummage sales will be allowed in coming weeks -- and potentially months.

Mazzola said if people see a garage-sale sign, drive on. If you decide to host one, Mazzola sad, expect a visit from health inspectors or officers.

Franklin County health officials will follow up on complaints, Mazzola said. The county office has fielded more than 750 complaints in the past month and a half.

Most locations have been responsive to health officials' concerns, although the county department has issued five cease-and-desist letters to businesses that shouldn't be operating under state orders.

"Our business owners and our residents, they've been incredibly understanding once they have the information," Mazzola said. "... We've had incredible compliance."

Mazzola and others have mentioned the garage-sale issue during recent daily administrative briefings coordinated by the county commissioners to share updates with county agencies and elected officials.

Jennie McAdams, sustainability supervisor at Franklin County Public Health, noted in a subsequent email to other county officials: "Without a means to sanitize all objects after being handled and with the encouragement of social gatherings, Franklin County Public Health guidance is to ban garage sales until such time as the public-health emergency is lifted."

Mazzola urged residents who encounter sales or any other activities that could spur coronavirus infections to file an online complaint with his office at myfcph.org.

"If you see a garage sale, don't go; don't take that chance," he said.

Mazzola said he couldn't predict when it will be safe again for residents to break out their card tables and bric-a-brac.

After conversations with state health officials and others, he said, it's evident reopening Ohio's economy will be a slow, deliberate process.

"We need to be careful. We need to be thoughtful, and we need to be taking this one step at a time," he said. "Garage sales aren't at the top of that list, in my opinion.

"We understand that there are a lot of individuals who have been affected by this, but first and foremost is the health and safety of our community."

Linworth United Methodist in northwestern Franklin County was scheduled to hold its garage sale the last weekend in April. The event raises thousands of dollars for the church's mission efforts and is popular among congregants and shoppers.

"We have people who are still in the workforce who spend their vacation time" helping prepare the twice-annual sale, said the Rev. Anna Guillozet, senior pastor. "For many of our retirees, this is a way they look forward to being together."

The church is considering renting additional storage for donations that fill the building and a large outdoor tent on sale days. The church still is accepting donations, though; pickups may be arranged by calling 614-336-8485.

"We're still deciding whether to donate what would have been sold immediately or hold on to some and have a mega-sale in the fall," Guillozet said.

In Merion Village, the pandemic has forced the postponement and cancellation of a garden tour and other events in addition to the spring community sale.

Residents are understandably disappointed, Norman said. "We really like to host events for the neighborhood, for the community, creating these events that we can host each year that people expect and love to attend."

For the time being, Merion Village's fall community sale, however, is still on the schedule.

Norman offers this advice to sellers.

"This is a great opportunity to dig through every room in your house and find more to sell," she said. "Store it in your basement or garage. ... The next sale should be quite a blowout."

mkovac@dispatch.com

@OhioCapitalBlog