With Ohio in the third week of COVID hospitalizations setting a new record each day, Gov. Mike DeWine laid out two new health orders and previewed the possibility of a limited shutdown. The announcement got mixed reviews from state lawmakers.
The two orders require masks and inspections at retail stores, and require people in open areas indoors – such as reception halls and bars – be seated and masked unless eating or drinking with no dancing and games.
And they were the right message, said Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) in suburban Cleveland. Dolan said Ohioans need to remain vigilant about staying six feet apart, washing hands and especially wearing masks.
“To do that we’re going to increase our enforcement. I’m hoping what he means by that is that it’s actually a civil and not a criminal offense, but we’re going to look into that,” Dolan said.
But not all Republicans are on board.
Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) is from Hardin County in western Ohio. He stated publicly in June that he wouldn’t wear a mask, and said he doesn’t think there’s a science to masks stopping all COVID, saying he’s known both people who wear and don’t wear masks who’ve gotten it.
“We have our local law enforcement telling us ‘we’re not going to be the mask police’. Create a law. And once that law is created, the judicial branch will make sure it’s constitutional and then it can go into the Ohio Revised Code and therefore law enforcement can do that. When the governor is issuing mandates, it is very challenging between the court system and others to enforce those mandates.”
Cross said he feels he’s getting mixed signals on mask wearing – though the federal Centers for Disease Control has been saying for months that masks work, and there’s been a statewide mask mandate since July.
Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) of suburban Columbus said she’s hearing confusing messages too. But she said they’re coming from people who are ignoring evidence.
“This virus doesn’t care about party affiliation. It doesn’t care about county boundaries. It doesn’t care about health jurisdictions. We are in a very dangerous stage with this virus where it is spreading and growing exponentially.”
House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) was more direct – saying in a statement that Dewine “needed to stand up to the bullies within his own party as he did in the spring”. DeWine shut down the Arnold Sports Festival in early March – the largest mass gathering event to be cancelled at that point – and was the first governor to close K-12 schools later that month.
But Cross said since Ohioans voted for President Trump by more than 8 points and Republicans gained a total of two seats in the Ohio House, he feels there’s a mandate for Trump’s message that Ohio’s economy needs to be totally open.
And Cross wants more legislation to put some checks on DeWine’s authority. There's already a bill to cancel the COVID state of emergency, among other bills, and DeWine vetoed a measure that would reduce penalties for violating health orders. Cross is pushing a bill that would declare all businesses essential so they can’t be shut down.
And Cross said he has a message for the governor – that DeWine needs to work with lawmakers to pass legislation that can be enforced rather than instituting mandates that can’t.
“Governor, you can work with us now or you can work with us later. But the Ohio House starts to put together the budget and we control the dollars, and if we think there’s an overreach by the governor, spending money that we don’t think is being spent correctly, we can address those situations,” Cross said. “It’s all a part of negotiations. It’s not a threat.”
While the more moderate Dolan said he is concerned about an order that DeWine said could come soon to shut down bars, restaurants and fitness centers, he said working together is imperative right now.
“This is not time to throw the governor under the bus. This is a time to figure out how we can all work together to get us through till the end when the vaccine comes. And we have to cooperate when the vaccine comes,” Dolan said. “This is going to be a monumental task to get that out and done as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
And Russo also isn’t convinced that shutting down bars, restaurants and fitness centers is needed. But she said she’s worried about what might happen in the next few weeks with the virus spreading rapidly, especially in counties that were carried by Trump.
“That is incredibly difficult when we have members within our General Assembly who won’t even bother to wear a mask within the building at the Statehouse, which I think just speaks volumes about the disregard for people’s health and safety,” said Russo.
The Ohio Restaurant Association has raised concerns about the possibility of shutting down bars and restaurants, and a lawyer who sued to open fitness centers said there’s an existing injunction that prevents them from being shut down again.
But the Ohio Hospital Association is praising DeWine’s actions, saying the state is at a "defining moment" in this pandemic.