As a Member of the Ohio General Assembly, I know that Ohioans are facing a variety of challenges from this ever-changing public health crisis.  But using the simple lessons of the “how to eat an elephant” story (one bite at a time), let me offer the five different areas of public policy challenges and what my colleagues and I will be working on in the early stages of this struggle.


1. The Public Health / General Population Arena


In order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we must continue to practice social distancing and maintain excellent personal hygiene habits.  Governor DeWine has been aggressive in closing various social interchanges of our lives and this continues to be the best strategy as there is not yet a vaccine for this killer virus.  If we can slow the spread of the virus, this will reduce the numbers of the population who need medical attention which will protect our medical treatment capacity, and, as a result, save lives.


2. Medical Treatment and The Cure


These are all the things that are needed to serve sick Ohioans.  We need hospital beds, ventilators, COVID-19 tests and testing supplies, gowns, gloves and all sorts of personal protective gear for our doctors and nurses so they can practice medicine with the best possible equipment.  The Medicaid expansion must be protected, and its eligibility should be expanded to the newly unemployed. Coronavirus tests and treatment need to be free for all Ohioans.  We also need to allow prescriptions to be written for a longer period of time to decrease repeat visits for refills.  Another public policy focus on this front would be helping to expand local capacity across Ohio so that medical care is within reasonable reach as the COVID-19 threat grows.  This could entail repurposing exiting buildings that could house non-Coronavirus medical conditions, to free up existing medical facilities to battle the virus.


3. The Soldiers on the Front Lines


These are the actual medical soldiers in the battle.  They must be protected, supported and expanded.  Besides supplying our medical professionals with all the gear they need to do their jobs, there are two other ways to support them.  First, we need to expand telehealth access.  This will allow social distancing and medical treatment to occur simultaneously. Second, we need to graduate nursing students and medical students “early” from their classrooms.  While they do not have full licensing capabilities and they should remain under close supervision, we may need them sooner then we care to admit.  If there are full medical teams available, these students can get a front row seat to the deadliest public health outbreak in 100 years.  But if, heaven forbid, they are needed before this war is over, they had better be ready.  So, draft them into service and let’s go.


4. Economic Justice


The American economy is already on life support and its sickness could take millions of Ohioans down with it.  We need to ensure that this outbreak does not cause people to go hungry as a result of their job losses.  Food stamp assistance must be dramatically broadened.  Paid sick leave and unemployment insurance requirements must also increase so that those who were working at the beginning of the month can still feel secure at the end of the month.  TANF benefits must continue.  The Internet and utilities must be left on and evictions turned off.  The Ohio Housing Finance Agency should be empowered to provide emergency rental assistance and support homeless shelters.  Small business tax deadlines need to be eased and those offering health care to their employees must still be able to do so.  Insurance coverage for businesses and individuals cannot be canceled.  Any Ohioan who has been displaced by this medical crisis must not be left behind.  The danger of calling some jobs ‘essential’ and other jobs ‘not essential’ is we still need everyone to behave like they are still a part of the team.  So, let’s take care of our teammate and keep food on everyone’s table.


5. Crisis Time Governance and The Global Economy


We still must get food to the grocery stores and government still has be provide basic services.  But how we go about both of those functions of supporting the market and how we govern will require new creativity.  First, Governance.  We will need to allow remote decision making so that government can function and still not assemble in mass numbers.   Open meetings and public input must be maintained while we attempt to use technology to reduce everyone’s risks.  K-12 testing must be waived, and graduation decisions need to be made by local school boards. The EdChoice expansion must be halted. One more critical point.  An April 28th Primary Election and the November 3rd General Election must occur.  Fair and open voting is essential in a Democracy.  We have enough time to determine a best practice to maintain the voice of voters without jeopardizing the health of our citizens.


Second, the Global Marketplace.  The American economy has created a middle class, broad-based educational attainment, a civil society and a stable nation ruled by law not brute force.  Maintaining and advancing this economy during a global crisis may demand intervention. What challenges lay ahead is difficult to forecast, but civil society needs its marketplace to also remain healthy.  To think that the American and Ohio economy will not need a boost during this crisis is naïve. Don’t let the virus poison the well that we all must drink from.


Be smart and well Ohio.  That elephant looks big right now. But piece by piece, we can get through this together.

 
 
 
  
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