With Cleveland COVID-19 cases on the rise, MetroHealth board member says to ‘reopen America’

Bernie Moreno. Photo taken from MetroHealth Board of Governors' website.

There were still 10 more minutes until Ohio’s “stay at home” order was set to go in effect, but Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno was already complaining about it.

“We can’t shelter in place forever,” Moreno said on Twitter late Monday evening, “or there may not be anything on the other side!”

Moreno is a prominent Republican donor and board member on the Cleveland-based MetroHealth System. He caused a stir Monday and early Tuesday for his social media comments appearing to downplay the need for Ohio’s social distancing orders, which have shut down many businesses and caused most Ohioans to stay home during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Moreno has since deleted the initial tweet and has conceded that his comments “absolutely did not show my intended thoughts.”

It began with a photo Moreno tweeted on Monday: “Me and 13 others hearing [sic] to Fort Lauderdale today on @SpiritAirlines … planes/cars crash every year and kill people; are we banning planes/cars next or do we keep working to make them safer? #ReopenAmerica #CoronavirusUSA.”

Bernie Moreno posted this tweet promoting “#ReopenAmerica” on Monday. Screenshot taken from Twitter.

He is the president of Bernie Moreno Companies, which involves a number of investments into digital enterprises and luxury vehicle sales. He donated tens of thousands of dollars to Gov. Mike DeWine’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign and has supported numerous other Republican candidates over the years. His call to “reopen America” stands in contrast, though, to DeWine’s order from this past weekend to close unessential businesses as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise. 

A spokesperson for MetroHealth told the Ohio Capital Journal that Moreno’s comments do not represent the view of the nonprofit health system. MetroHealth’s website states Moreno was appointed to the board in 2019.

MetroHealth is taking the new coronavirus seriously; its homepage outlines a number of changes, including the closure of numerous health centers, limiting in-person visits with patients and delivering prescriptions to avoid social contact at pharmacies. 

Cuyahoga County has the most confirmed cases out of any county in Ohio: 167, as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Ohio Department of Health. 

Moreno later said that “confirmed cases isn’t a metric that has much meaning as testing isn’t uniform across the country.”

“I’m advocating for a plan to restart/reopen (businesses) that deals with a balance between extreme economic hardship and mitigating the virus with metrics to support that decision,” he continued. 

This viewpoint mirrors a similar refrain from conservative voices and President Donald Trump in recent days. Trump has said the societal “cure” for this virus should not be “worse than the problem itself,” encouraging a sped-up timeline in which Americans can get back to work. 

Facing sharp backlash throughout the day, Moreno started to backpedal Monday evening on his views to “reopen America.” The Capital Journal asked if he supported DeWine’s handling of COVID-19 thus far, and Moreno offered praise to the governor.

“(DeWine) is doing an amazing job,” he said. “Making the hardest decisions any elected official has ever been called to make. Thank god I am not in the position he’s in. Easier to opine from the bleachers than be on the court with this one!!”

Moreno added he was “simply making a point” about moving forward.

“Clearly, there will be a Covid-20, 21, 22, etc.,” he said. “(W)e can’t shut the economy down each time.”

Asked again about his call to “#ReopenAmerica,” Moreno blamed the Twitter format that limits messages to 280 characters.

“Can’t be perfect,” Moreno said, “don’t have to be. Not a politician.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Moreno had taken down the tweet and he issued a mea culpa.

“Bottom line … I take full responsibility for the tweet that I have since deleted. In hindsight, it absolutely did not show my intended thoughts,” he wrote. “For that, I deserve the criticism I am getting.”

The statement from the MetroHealth System spokesperson reads, in part:

We are aware of discussions on social media about the economic impact of business closures during the COVID-19 outbreak. We respect the rights of citizens to debate the actions and decisions of their public officials – and even their friends. Views expressed by companies and individuals affiliated with MetroHealth are their own, and do not represent the views of MetroHealth.

To be clear, from the beginning of this crisis, The MetroHealth System has prioritized the health and wellness of our patients, employees and community.”

Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.