From roller coasters to kiddie rides, Ohio's amusement parks are allowed to reopen beginning June 19, but a potential problem arose earlier this month: The state's team for inspecting amusement rides is not at full strength due to layoffs in May.
The 89 rides at Cedar Point at Sandusky and the 65 rides at Kings Island near Cincinnati require inspections and permits before they may open. The state said June 8 it would work to meet the parks' opening dates, which Kings Island set July 2 and Cedar Point slated July 9.
Smaller amusement parks and water parks with aquatics rides, which also are permitted to reopen June 19, also will require ride inspections after the state on June 5 relaxed its COVID-19 coronavirus-caused closures.
With no rides to check, and with fees funding the inspectors' salaries, four members of the team of 12 were furloughed in May as part of $4.8 million in budget cuts by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus having undercut state tax collections.
Agency spokeswoman Shelby Croft said two of the laid-off inspectors would be back "as soon as possible," but as of June 9, it was unknown when, or if, the other two inspectors would return due to budget concerns.
The department originally intended to lay off all 12 inspectors, but some ride owners and operators, typically hired for fairs and other events, began to request inspections in anticipation of reopenings, Croft said.
Agriculture director Dorothy Pelanda has authorized overtime hours and pay to meet the sudden demand for ride inspections, Croft said.
"Our inspectors will not compromise safety for speed but will work diligently to ensure thorough inspections in order that all rides will operate safely," Croft said.
Spokesmen for Kings Island and Cedar Point declined to comment June 8 on the need for state ride inspections.
Kings Island announced June 9 it would open to season pass holders July 2, with others admitted beginning July 12. Cedar Point said it would open July 9 to certain pass holders and July 11 to resort guests and those with prepurchased tickets.
Required coronavirus precautions at both parks, which have a common owner, include online reservations, completion of a "pre-visit health screening declaration 24 hours prior to admission" and a touchless temperature check at the park. All visitors and employees must wear masks and observe social-distancing guidelines.
Gov. Mike DeWine signed "Tyler's Law" late last year to improve amusement-ride safety and inspection standards. Tyler Jarrell, 18, of west Columbus was killed during the 2017 Ohio State Fair when one of the rusted gondolas broke off the Fire Ball ride and crashed to the ground. A second victim, Jennifer Lambert, 19, of Columbus later died of liver failure after sustaining a traumatic brain injury in the incident.
The state increased inspection fees for amusement rides to allow it to hire more ride inspectors, who inspect more than 4,000 rides in a normal year filled with county fairs and other events.