DeWine seeks to rally Ohioans, offers no new orders in response to coronavirus surge

Gov. Mike DeWine is seen in a March 9 press conference announcing the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio.

In the face of an alarming rise in the number of coronavirus cases, Gov. Mike DeWine took to the airwaves Wednesday evening to make an impassioned plea for Ohioans to do what they can to slow the spread of the disease. 

However, the governor didn’t issue any new health orders intended to bring that about.

The governor abruptly canceled his regular, Tuesday afternoon press conference and instead scheduled his Wednesday appearance and encouraged news outlets across Ohio to carry it. The goal, apparently, was to get the attention of as many Ohioans as he could.

His message was stark.

“Today, more Ohioans are getting sick than at any previous point in this pandemic. We are sliding down a very dangerous path, with our once flattened-curve starting to sharpen and spike,” DeWine said. “This is a worrisome, disturbing reversal of our progress — a jarring reminder of just how quickly our fate can change.

The governor later added: “Our way of life in Ohio is in danger. Our state’s life is in danger.”

Wednesday continued a grim, accelerating trend that began in late June. More than 1,300 new coronavirus cases were reported over the past 24 hours — 47% more than on the same day three weeks ago and 23% more than the 21-day average.

Hospitalizations and ICU admissions hit 21-day highs as well on Wednesday.

DeWine said that after early measures limited the spread of the disease, Ohioans — including him — became less cautious and started attending family parties and other functions that turned out not to be safe. 

He said that if Ohioans don’t act now to slow the virus’s spread, the state could find itself in a situation similar to Florida, which added more than 15,000 cases in a single day.

“This is our second chance. We won’t get a third,” DeWine said, quoting from a New York Times op-ed by historian John M. Barry, who has studied the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Invoking the image of a family member lying alone in the hospital, the governor implored people across the state to wear masks in public and keep their distance from others.

However, close to the beginning of his 22-minute speech, DeWine said he wasn’t going to announce any new health orders.

“The truth is, what your local health department, the Ohio Department of Health or what I order is not nearly as important as what we all do — what we all do — in these crucial days ahead,” he said. “Our future truly lies in our own hands.”

The governor’s “pep talk” isn’t enough in the face of the health emergency, said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. In a statement, he called for a statewide mask mandate and other, “more decisive steps.”

“More must be done. Immediately,” Pepper said. “And a broad, bipartisan majority of Ohioans supports more being done.”

Perhaps it didn’t have to be this way. 

Other countries such as Italy that were hit hard early in the pandemic instituted strict distancing orders and kept them in place until there was a sustained drop in cases. On Tuesday, there were 114 new cases reported in Italy, as opposed to almost 66,000 new cases in the United States.

States such as Florida, Texas and Arizona were slower to curtail activities and quicker than Ohio to reopen and they’ve been worse affected by the virus’ surge.

But Ohio began a phased reopening in May even though the state’s testing capacity was woefully inadequate and it hadn’t achieved any of the metrics laid out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the time, DeWine conceded that the reopening carried risks, but he said the state’s economy couldn’t endure much more of a shutdown.

Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State, said it appears that many Ohioans took the message from the reopening that they could rush back out to bars and restaurants and other activities that gave the coronavirus ample opportunity to spread.

“I think that DeWine — particularly early on — did a really good job of handling coronavirus,” Beck said. “Then he relented a bit under great pressure from his own party.”

President Donald Trump has consistently played down the pandemic, only once wearing a mask in public and has been trying to undermine the credibility of Anthony S. Fauci, his administration’s top infectious disease expert.

In Ohio, nearly two dozen Republican lawmakers on June 3 sent a letter to DeWine essentially declaring the pandemic over and calling on him to remove any remaining coronavirus restrictions. Others have refused to wear masks in the Statehouse, introduced bills that would take away the governor’s ability to enforce health orders, and one Republican lawmaker has even urged Ohioans not to get tested for coronavirus.

DeWine has been careful not to criticize Trump or other Republican officials. But on Wednesday, he offered what might have been an oblique shot at the president, who earlier this month retweeted a former game show host who said “everyone is lying” about the pandemic in an attempt to sabotage the economy and hurt Trump’s chances at reelection.

“My friends. This is not a drill,” DeWine said. “It certainly is not a hoax.”