COVID-19 Dominated The General Assembly In 2020
At the beginning of 2020, few had heard of coronavirus. At the end of the year, it’s hard to avoid hearing mention of it. The pandemic has cost many Ohioans their lives and livelihoods. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.
Governor Mike DeWine’s first major action in the fight against coronavirus was in March, when he issued a health order that virtually cancelled the popular Arnold Sports Festival from happening. He said bringing 200,000 people from 80 different countries into Ohio posed a unique health risk. Ohio was the first state to close K-12 schools. By mid-March, Ohio’s Health Director, Doctor Amy Acton, signed an order that basically shut down all non-essential business. On March 22, a Stay at Home order was issued for Ohioans, telling them not to go anywhere unless it was necessary.
"We have to take this action. We have to do everything we can.”
That resulted in massive layoffs. A half a million Ohioans had filed for unemployment at the peak of the crisis. And those who could file on the state's antiquated system right away were lucky. Many Ohioans said they couldn’t get through on the phone or online. And Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted noted a big obstacle for independent contractors, the self-employed and others who would get federally funded pandemic assistance.
“That is an entirely new separate system that is going to have to be set up. This will happen in weeks, not days. It’s going to take – no state has an off-the-shelf solution that they have.”
The mid-March primary election was postponed just hours before the original Election Day and was moved to the end of April.
The Ohio National Guard was called in to assist food banks with distribution since their lines had doubled and tripled. The Guard also helped set up remote medical facilities which were not needed at the time. Ohioans were asked to wear homemade masks. And restaurants that were closed to dine in service were allowed to offer alcoholic drinks with carry out food orders.
In late April, DeWine put a mask mandate in place, only to reverse it for the general public less than 24 hours later because of pushback from some Ohioans and from businesses.
As spring went into summer, businesses started to reopen under strict rules to ensure safe distancing and additional sanitation. More Ohioans were getting the unemployment they sought but many of businesses that had been closed were hurting. That sparked anger and protest at the Statehouse.
Acton resigned in June after criticism from state lawmakers and protests at her home - sometimes including armed demonstrators.
That was met with cheers from some Republican state lawmakers. A few week later, Representative John Becker drew up articles of impeachment against DeWine.
“The Governor is not working with the General Assembly. He is, as some would say, governor gone wild. And he needs to be stopped.”
Nothing came of that but in the fall, majority Republicans passed a bill that would rein in DeWine’s ability to put out health orders. Senator Kristina Roegner was one of its sponsors.
“Quarantine and isolation are for people who are actually sick. Not for those of us who are sick of government overreach.”
DeWine vetoed that bill. And lawmakers were not able to come up with enough votes to override that veto, in part, because some of its major backers in the legislature were absent due to coronavirus concerns.
As the year ended, Ohio's frontline health care workers, nursing home workers and residents were getting the vaccine. Hundreds of thousands more doses will arrive in early 2021. But experts say it’s unlikely enough Ohioans will be able to get herd immunity until late summer or early fall.