COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s aggressive steps closing its schools and limiting access to public places has held off a feared wave of COVID-19 cases and won wide praise for Republican Gov. Mike DeWine. Now there are widening cracks in his foundation of support and signs that his greatest challenges will comes this month as the state slowly reopens.
The sense of solidarity across the state as Ohio endured the initial stages of DeWine’s stay-at-home order appears to be fraying as residents take a scattershot approach to mask-wearing in public, some restaurant owners threaten open revolt, and anger builds over what businesses are allowed to open their doors, or not.
“We’re not doing illegal stuff here. We’re doing legal businesses, and we’re trying to make a living here,” Pete St. Jean, owner of a Lebanon plumbing company in southwestern Ohio, told an Ohio House legislative committee on Monday during a session on the pandemic’s economic impact. “And we want to be able to move forward with the rights that we have been given.”
Weekend rallies embodied the divide, as a small group of protesters took their anger over the shutdown directly to Health Director Dr. Amy Acton in a demonstration outside her house in suburban Columbus on Saturday, and health care providers staged a counterprotest in support of Acton the next day at the Statehouse.
In Columbus, a restaurant owner backed off a threat to reopen, but said he’s talking with other restaurant operators about a plan to reopen regardless of whether the governor lifts the ban, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
One lawmaker, Rep. John Becker, a conservative Republican from Clermont County, said he wants to strip the health director and governor of the power to issue mandatory public health orders.
DeWine already is coming off a rough week. His normally disciplined COVID-19 messaging took a beating on Tuesday when he walked back a directive that customers must wear masks in stores, and then dropped a surprise gift to retailers on Friday, allowing them latitude for reopening under limited measures more than a week earlier than originally promised.
“The message is very confusing for people,” said Gabriel Barrow, whose family owns a jewelry store in Toledo that has stayed open with limited hours because it sells batteries for digital thermometers and watches.
The store was busier on Friday than it had been in the past three weeks combined, with some customers wearing masks and other choosing not to, he said.
Over the weekend, the governor said reopening Ohio is a “balancing” act between bringing the economy back while protecting people, and added that he will be prepared to take action should the situation worsen again.
More coronavirus developments in Ohio:
The number of confirmed and probable deaths associated with the coronavirus has reached 1,038, state health officials said. The Ohio health department posted figures Sunday indicating 957 confirmed deaths and another 81 probable deaths associated with the virus.
The department noted more than 19,000 confirmed cases of the virus and a probable total of more than 19,900.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Two prison employees and 34 Ohio prison inmates have died from COVID-19, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
More than 4,100 inmates have tested positive for the virus, but the prisons agency has only conducted universal testing at three facilities to date, meaning the actual number of positive cases is unknown.
JUDGE TO RESIGN
A county judge plans to step down before his term ends this year because he doesn’t want to risk bringing home the coronavirus to his wife, who he said has medical issues.
Sandusky County Common Pleas Court Judge John Dewey, who did not seek re-election after 44 years on the bench, said he has only been going to his office after-hours to avoid contact with people.
Dewey told The (Fremont) News-Messenger he will submit his resignation after county Republican leaders are able to discuss who will be appointed as his replacement
Seewer reported from Toledo. Associated Press Writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.