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COVID one year later: did DeWine do the right thing?

Published By WHIO on March 2, 2021
Jena Powell In The News

On March 3, 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine took to the news conference room at the Ohio Statehouse to announce the first of what was to become a long list of controversial decisions to deal with the coronavirus.

“We’re all concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19,” DeWine said.

He was flanked by the State Health Director at the time, Dr. Amy Acton, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and Columbus Health Director, Dr. Mysheika Roberts.  “The situation is going to spread,” said Acton, who on that first official day of the crisis talked about a handful of cases in Ohio under investigation.

 It is considered to be the official start of the COVID crisis in Ohio because that is when DeWine announced his first COVID related restriction. He ordered that no spectators could attend the upcoming “Arnold Classic”, an annual sports festival that normally draws 22,000 participants and even more fans from around the world. The event is named after body builder-turned actor-turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former California Governor joined DeWine on the telephone during the news conference to voice support for the decision to eliminate fans from the event and to cancel the trade show that traditionally attracts vendors who pay top dollar to be in the body building spotlight.

Little did DeWine know at the time that later that month he would be ordering most Ohioans to stay home and for most businesses not declared to be “essential” to shut down. It led to a massive slump in the state’s economy and  widespread unemployment. Almost immediately the state’s unemployment compensation system was overwhelmed. It still has not recovered.

Protestors took to the Statehouse to decry DeWine’s actions as unconstitutional. Some targeted Dr. Acton, who later quit rather than put up with demonstrators outside her home. More restrictions followed as case numbers increased. DeWine ordered a statewide mask mandated and a nightly curfew. As hospitalizations involving COVID began to subside, the curfew shrank, and then, eventually was removed by DeWine completely.

By January, the promise of vaccines started to become reality and people were finally getting the shot that could stave off the virus. At the one year mark the Department of Health reported 970,583 Ohioans had contracted the virus and 17,189 people had died from it.

How do Miami Valley lawmakers view DeWine’s handling of the crisis?

“Absolutely horrible. There are many ways we could have done better for Ohioans,” said Rep. Jena Powell, R- Arcanum.

Powell believes DeWine over-reacted and exceeded his authority by shutting down the state’s economy.  She has remained one of DeWine’s biggest critics at the Statehouse, even though they are of the same political party.

In contrast, Rep. Willis Blackshear, Jr., D- Dayton said DeWine handled it well at the beginning.

“He started off on the right foot. He did everything he was supposed to do with the information he had at the time,” Blackshear said.

But the freshman legislator said over time too many decisions from the governor’s office were becoming political.

“I would tell the governor to put politics aside and actually listen to the experts,” Blackshear said.

Even though the state is observing the one-year mark in the crisis, Ohio remains under a series of emergency orders from the state health department.  Republican lawmakers are still considering a pair of plans to limit the governor’s authority to launch long-running emergency orders. Powell is anxious for one of those to pass, saying “it should have happened actually in March of 2020.”

DeWine said he would review the state’s response to the crisis over the last year at his next briefing, expected on Thursday.

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