By Andrew Welsh-Huggins and John Seewer, Associated Press
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.
The governor said Monday that as more people go back to work and into stores over the next few weeks, it’s expected there will be a spike in cases, and it will be up to each individual to maintain safe social distancing to protect others.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get that message across,” DeWine said. “A lot of this is falling on our shoulders as citizens.”
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.
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.
The governor made it clear Monday that he wasn’t happy with the protesters who targeted Acton’s home or one who taunted a reporter outside the Statehouse last week.
“Come after me. I’m the elected official,” he said. “To bother the family of Dr. Acton? I don’t think that’s fair game. It’s not right.”
During DeWine’s daily news briefing Monday at the state Department of Public Safety in Columbus, about 50 protesters gathered outside, said Lt. Craig Cvetan of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
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.
New details about when and how restaurants can open fully will be announced within the next several days, DeWine said.
DeWine already was 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.
DeWine 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.
The goal now is to prevent further spread of the virus and manage the peaks, Acton said. “Coming down the mountain is a lot harder than going up it,” she said.
More coronavirus developments in Ohio:
The number of confirmed and probable deaths associated with the coronavirus has reached 1,056, state health officials said. The Ohio health department posted figures Monday indicating 975 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 20,000.
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.
In central Ohio, Otterbein University announced plans to reopen to students this fall, including dormitories and classrooms for in-person teaching. Officials at the 2,900-student liberal arts school said it’s making preparations for social distancing, cleaning policies and mask-wearing.
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, told The (Fremont) News-Messenger he has only been going to his office after-hours to avoid contact with people and he will submit his resignation once his replacement can be considered.
Seewer reported from Toledo. Associated Press Writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.