COLUMBUS — As states across the country take action to do away with mask mandates and other coronavirus-related public health orders, Scioto County’s Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, is among a bevy of Ohio Republican Party legislators attempting to curb the authority of Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health.
Like so many things throughout the past year, Johnson argues that the state’s response to the pandemic is “unprecedented” even when compared to the Spanish Flu. In his view, the handling of the response has been much more centralized on the executive branch and goes against the common practice of medicine.
Johnson, who according to his Senate bio is presently employed by Valley View Health Centers in Waverly as Director of Medically Assisted Treatment and Integrated Health Services, described the process as an individual going to their physician or health care provider to get advice.
Advice, even when in a patient’s best interest, can be turned down without punishment. With the COVID orders, however, Johnson said this is not the case where citations and fines have been issued.
“It’s their life and they get to make that decision,” said Johnson, a practicing physician for 30 years and medical educator at Ohio University. “I have never told someone if you don’t do what I tell you to do you’re in trouble.”
While not following the orders has punishments, Johnson also took particular issue with the orders themselves which he believes are not based on clear science but rather on compromise.
Compromise, or “mental gymnastics” as he put it, was at the center of the state’s attempt at safely re-opening with mask orders and the enforcement of social distancing.
“This compromise is as unscientific as anything,” he said. “And six-feet? That is actually not scientific.”
While not wearing the mask during his testimony, Johnson said he did walk into the statehouse while wearing one. He argued that breath however still gets out when doing so, even more so when double-masked.
Non-standardized masks, not including N95 masks, the senator argues are less effective as many improperly wear them. Casting blame on those not wearing masks for spreading the virus is not something that can be verified, he also believes.
“The virus is floating around, it’s ubiquitous,” Johnson said with conviction. “Science is important, but what we really need to remember, and what this bill seeks to do, and what (Sen.) McColley says we are trying to reestablish our separation of powers, we are trying to respect the citizens of Ohio.”
His comments part from recent data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which demonstrated the effectiveness of mask mandates. Ohio’s mandate has been in place since July 22, although DeWine announced Thursday that the mandate could be lifted if the state reports 50 or fewer new cases per 100,000 over a period of two weeks.
“Mask mandates were associated with statistically significant decreases in county-level daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation,” the report reads. “Allowing on-premises restaurant dining was associated with increases in county-level case and death growth rates within 41–80 days after reopening.”
Johnson delivered these comments during the first hearing of Senate Bill 22 in the Ohio House State and Local Government Committee earlier this week. Having passed the Senate in a 25-8 vote last month this legislation would create a bipartisan, bicameral Ohio Health Oversight and Advisory Committee.
While at odds with the Republican governor, Johnson states the bill is more about restoring checks and balances rather than limiting the state’s response to the pandemic.
He said it is also in the best interest of the citizens of Ohio, many of whom testified as proponents during prior hearings in the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee. There were more proponents than opponents, but multiple health departments including ODH were not in favor.
“For goodness sakes, they have constitutional rights,” Johnson said, referring to state residents. “We can only do to them, or for them, what we are constitutionally allowed to do and we need to be accountable to the folks that we’re doing it to.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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