OHIO | HARLAN SPECTOR: DeWine should help save lives and the economy by mandating face masks in public

By Harlan Spector

Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine knows what needs to be done. It’s as obvious as the mask-covered nose on his face.

COVID-19 cases are spiking in Ohio, and spreading out of control in the South and West. The governor of Kansas this week ordered residents to wear face masks in public.

Kansas is the 19th state to pull the trigger on orders mandating face masks in public, according to Kaiser Family Foundation. DeWine should make Ohio number 20.

Under pressure, the governor in late April reversed course on an order for Ohio residents to cover their mouths and noses in retail establishments. Ohio had about 19,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,000 deaths at that time.

The state as of Monday stood at 51,046 cases and 2,818 deaths.

The governor is at a crossroads. He conscientiously has urged Ohioans to mask up. But urging compliance won’t cut it. Too many people don’t care, don’t believe in facts or they nurse twisted ideas about personal liberty.

Pleading will not stop selfish, unmasked people from going into stores or packing swimming pool bars in Put-In-Bay. Asking Ohioans to act for the greater good will not be enough to halt the troubling trajectory of COVID cases, on the rise since mid-June. Ohio last week had the first increase in hospitalizations in two months.

As cases surge nationally, Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, warned a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday that new cases could exceed 100,000 a day. We’re now at about 40,000 cases a day.

Republican DeWine has served Ohioans generally well through this crisis. He’s distinguished himself in 2020 largely for who he isn’t. He isn’t Trump. He isn’t the Trump governors of Texas and Florida, who downplayed the threat, needlessly endangered the health and well-being of their constituents and now face dire consequences.

DeWine allowed science and data to drive policy. He took action early to shut down businesses and schools to protect the public. His approval ratings soared. Democratic leaders, including Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, showered him with praise. Oddly enough, his approval among Democrats is higher than within his own party (81% vs. 76%), according to a Quinnipiac poll released last week.

Despite his high ratings, fellow Republicans are hammering DeWine and the good vibes from Democrats are slipping. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper on Twitter this week slammed DeWine for reopening too quickly, without adequate testing, and called on him to mandate masks as the national crisis worsens.

Ohio Republican lawmakers have criticized lockdown orders from the start. They attacked his former health director, Dr. Amy Acton, and tried to strip away her powers before she resigned earlier this month. News reports say DeWine is facing a GOP “mutiny” in rural Ohio because of his handling of the pandemic. Yet his measures to curb the spread of coronavirus are hardly extreme by today’s standards compared to other states. For example, more than 30 states have reopened restaurants with capacity limits, while Ohio imposed no capacity limits.

The governor is in a tough spot. It seems he will have no choice but again to resist Ohio GOP legislators and others who line up with Trump and against science.

It’s gotten to the point where the finance industry is stepping in where the president and most Republican leaders won’t. Goldman Sachs on Tuesday urged a national mask mandate, saying it would slow the spread of COVID and prevent a 5% decline in the GDP caused by additional lockdown measures.

Five percent translates into $1 trillion. The report speaks the language that anti-mask Republicans should understand. And it helps give DeWine and other conservatives cover to do the right thing.

Harlan Spector is a Northeast Ohio writer focused on health care and other topics. He has decades of journalism experience as a former Cleveland Plain Dealer editor and enterprise reporter who covered health and medicine, government, social services, education and other areas. Follow Harlan on Twitter @harspector. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.

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