Ohioans have left Gov. Mike DeWine with few options to fight COVID-19

Eight months after shutting Ohio down during the early emergence of COVID-19, Gov. Mike DeWine can’t win.

Too many Ohioans have ignored his pleas to avoid gatherings and wear masks. Pandemic fatigue is real, even for people taking this health threat seriously. Our upcoming holiday season and colder weather will undoubtedly make things worse.

DeWine’s fellow Republicans bristle at any suggestion of closing down businesses to control a troubling spike in cases and hospitalizations. Democrats assail him for losing his political spine just months after they praised his bold actions. Our president says all the wrong things, leaving governors to fight alone.

We concede it seems odd for DeWine to react to November’s explosion of new cases with less firepower than he used for March’s first few cases. The curve is anything but flattened.

Then again, in March we knew very little about COVID-19, how it spread and how rapidly sick people might overwhelm our hospitals already struggling to find personal protective equipment for caregivers. Few people owned masks. Social distancing was a new concept.

The governor did what he had to do this spring. Anyone who suggests otherwise either isn’t being honest with themselves or recklessly disregards others.

Fast forward to today and the pandemic presents a much different challenge, although hospital capacity remains a critical concern forcing DeWine’s hand.

Doctors can more effectively treat the sickest and now face a greater threat from community spread while off duty than from contagious patients. Businesses are equipped to protect employees, which the vast majority do successfully. Even schools have taught students while avoiding virus spread.

Still, the threat is unrelenting and growing while our federal government sits and watches.

DeWine’s warning Wednesday night that he might close restaurants, bars and fitness centers while adding teeth to the state’s mask requirement and enforcement, is unfortunate but grounded in reality.

Crowded indoor restaurants where people remove masks to eat and drink give the virus a chance to spread no matter how well management follows the rules. Further reducing capacity might balance economic and health considerations, especially with owners already destined to lose significant holiday business.

The governor’s plan to use Bureau of Workers’ Compensation inspectors to ensure businesses are enforcing the mask mandate seems more appropriate, although it could force lower-paid service employees to police uncooperative patrons. The threat of 24-hour shutdowns for second violations certainly carries significant weight for owners.

Some Ohioans joked that DeWine’s speech pleading for cooperation resembled a parent counting to 3 in tiny fractions before finally punishing a child.

We see a governor who’s acted boldly and pleaded with residents who have increasingly rejected his sound advice rooted in science.

If DeWine finds himself forced to impose more restrictions, it will hardly be his fault. It will reflect the will of Ohioans who have decided the risk of a potentially deadly illness is worth living their lives as they see fit.

The consequences of those decisions remain to be seen.

Please wear a mask. Avoid unnecessary gatherings. Pray for our health care workers.

— Akron Beacon Journal

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We can do better, but we need everyone

What happens next with COVID-19 is up to us.

We’ve heard our health professionals’ recommendations and pleas regarding COVID-19 many times now:

Stay at least 6 feet apart. Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds. Stay home if sick. Avoid crowded places, close contact, confined spaces. Work from home if you can.

And, yes, wear a mask to limit how much of the virus travels between you and others (and vice versa).

Now Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has never imposed a statewide mask mandate but effectively shut down the state for six weeks when COVID-19 arrived, has raised the stakes.

About 20% of Nebraska’s staffed hospital beds statewide were occupied by COVID-19 patients as of Friday. (As of Thursday, more than 38% of Great Plains Health’s staffed beds were so occupied.)

If that percentage reaches 25%, Ricketts said, he’ll reimpose most of the legal health restrictions he did in April so long as it stays that high.

Most indoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people. Outdoor gatherings couldn’t exceed 25. Bars would be closed except for delivery, takeout and drive-thru. Only licensed restaurants could offer dine-in meals (an improvement from last spring).

You know the drill.

There’s still a chance to avoid this fate, Ricketts said (from his own COVID-19 quarantine): “Please get engaged with our non-pharmaceutical interventions.”

Right. Social distancing. Hand-washing. And masks.

No one can deny that Ricketts has repeatedly called for Nebraskans to do all that, all year long, without a statewide mask mandate.

He’s called upon Nebraskans’ common sense and desire to protect loved ones and neighbors from unnecessary harm.

Our health professionals have had two unchanging goals: Restrain the virus’ spread 1) to buy time for a vaccine and 2) to avoid overwhelming hospitals and their staffs.

It was good news last week to learn the first COVID-19 vaccines are on their way. But they’re still a few weeks off at best.

With few exceptions, Nebraska’s hospitals have had enough room all along to take care of the worst COVID-19 patients and people with other serious illnesses or injuries.

Now it’s a matter of making sure that remains true. And deciding what our holidays look like.

That said, the choice remains yours.

— North Platte Telegraph (Nebraska)

Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal and can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

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