As Ohio reopens, top doc raises questions and public has concerns

By: - May 13, 2020 1:00 am

Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies before a U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

Ohio and other states are easing coronavirus economic restrictions despite warnings from the nation’s top public health doctor and apparent reservations by the public at large.

Retail businesses that hadn’t already opened were allowed to do so on Tuesday. Salons and barber shops and outdoor service at restaurants and bars will be allowed to begin on Friday. The latter will be allowed to restart limited inside service a week after that.

All this comes as the state has failed to meet at least two of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s basic criteria to start reopening. They call for a downward trajectory in new COVID-19 cases over a two-week period and to have a robust testing program in place for at-risk health care workers.

Yet the Ohio Department of Health reported 444 new cases on April 28 and 473 on Tuesday, two weeks later. Daily new cases during that period ranged from a low of 384 on Sunday to a high of 885 on Friday.

In terms of testing, state officials conceded last week that as they scale up testing, they’ll still have to ration it, giving top priority to people with disease symptoms and second priority to those who are exposed to the disease in group settings.

President Donald Trump has been cheerleading reopening efforts in Ohio and other states as the U.S. economy staggers under coronavirus shutdowns. But his top infectious disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, on Tuesday warned of dire consequences if states reopen without the proper safeguards.

“I feel that if that occurs there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak you might not be able to control, which in fact paradoxically would set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but even set you back on the road to try to get to economic recovery,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Asked about the warning, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Fauci was correct, but added, “It is a risk. It is a risk whatever we do. It’s a risk if we don’t do anything. It’s a risk if we don’t open back up.”

Fauci told the senators that the CDC’s criteria for reopening were devised carefully and said they shouldn’t be ignored. But DeWine said they were all but impossible to meet.

“There are very few states that actually could meet those requirements,” he said. “We believe that if we do this right, we can do two things at once. We can focus on health and we can focus at the same time on trying to carefully get our economy back.”

As he has throughout the pandemic, DeWine implored Ohioans to maintain physical distances, wear masks and observe other safety measures.

If Ohio does see a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths, that could harm DeWine’s standing in the Buckeye State. 

Right now he’s riding high. A new Washington Post-Ipsos poll shows him with 86% of approval from Ohioans for his handling of the pandemic — the highest of any governor. Just 43% approve of Trump’s handling of the disease.

Despite noisy, unmasked protests outside state capitols demanding that everything reopen, the poll showed those views are decidedly in the minority.

Seventy four percent agreed that “The U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed.” Surprisingly, even a greater proportion — 79% — of people laid off during the pandemic agreed with that.
Just 25% of respondents agreed that “The U.S. should open up businesses again, even if it means more people would get the coronavirus.”

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.