State Health Director to Close Polls Due to Health Emergency While Primary Battle Continues
It appears Ohio's primary is off again.
In a release issued Monday night, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton will order polls to be closed on Tuesday due to a health emergency.
The situation capped an evening of uncertainty that began Monday afternoon when the governor and Secretary of State Frank LaRose said they wanted to push the primary to June 2 to protect the health of citizens concerned about the spread of COVID-19.
State law, though, does not give them the power to do that. So a court action was filed on behalf of voters. Monday evening Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Frye rejected the attempt to delay the primary. The Columbus Dispatch reported that Frye said it would be a "terrible precedent" for a judge to step in 12 hours before polls open to rewrite the election code.
Earlier Monday, DeWine said state officials had heard from voters and workers concerned that polling places could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.
"We should not force them to make this choice — the choice between their health and their constitutional rights and duties as American citizens," DeWine said.
The state had to file suit because under law, the only way the governor could move the date is if there were an invasion. While he believes that aptly describes what's happening with the coronavirus, he does not think that's what was intended by the law. So they pursued the delay in the courts.
In the latest statement the governor said, "While the polls will be closed tomorrow (Tuesday), Secretary of State Frank LaRose will seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity."
Absentee voting could be available until the proposed new election date. Initially, Ohio was going to go on with voting as scheduled. But then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning over the weekend to limit gatherings to no more than 50 people.
"(Tuesday's) in-person voting cannot conform with CDC guidelines. We cannot conduct this election," DeWine said.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said this gives Ohioans ample opportunity to request a ballot and cast it without putting themselves at risk for contracting COVID-19 at polling locations.
Not only does it protect voters, but also the 35,000 poll workers, Husted said.
"The health and safety of our fellow Ohioans is not negotiable," Husted said.
Georgia and Louisiana have also postponed their primaries.
The goal is to get everybody through this, DeWine said.
"We don't have any experience with this. It's a once-in-a-hundred year crisis. So we have to come together," DeWine said. "We have been invaded. We have to treat this like we would any huge, huge national crisis."
On Sunday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued an order to extend the deadline for voters to request absentee voting. The order also sought to have curbside voting available in all 88 counties.
DeWine is also issuing another order to close the following facilities by end of business Monday: gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, public recreation centers, movie theaters, indoor water parks and indoor trampoline parks.
"Everyone is moving full-court press," said Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio Department of Health. As of Monday, 50 cases have been confirmed in 12 counties. The first case was confirmed a week ago.
The youngest case confirmed is a 14 year old. The median age is 51, Acton said.
"We are all having to make some very hard decisions right now," Acton said.
Husted asked business owners to look out for employees as more facilities begin to shut down amid the outbreak.
"You're going to need those employees. Take care of them. Help them out," Husted said.
The state issued an order Sunday that extends unemployment benefits to those affected by the pandemic. Husted said since the annoucenment, the number of those who filed for unemployment went from around 560 to 1,200. For more details on how to receive unemployment assistance, click here.
DeWine also decided to close bars and restaurants Sunday night after he received letters of concern about crowds for St. Patrick's Day.
Schools K-12 also shut down officially Monday afternoon, although many decided to close earlier. At first, DeWine said schools will close for three weeks. Sunday he said that deadline may be extended depending on the spread of COVID-19.
Acton said Sunday cases started surfacing around Feb. 7. She said the numbers being reported now are just the "tip of the iceburg" and believes hundreds of thousands of people across the state are carrying COVID-19 but could be asymptomatic.
"There are many cases that are undetected. There are many asymptomatic people. Each and every one of us must suspect that we have it or are carrying it," Acton said.
Symptoms can take six to 14 days to appear. Those symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
Acton said the delay in testing is what's going to make cases seem like they're being confirmed at a rapid pace. Acton and DeWine said the increase in cases is expected.
Lori Criss, the director for the Ohio Department of Addiction and Mental Health Services, gave some tips on how to relieve stress during the pandemic. She said:
As DeWine said, "We're in this for long run."
Many changes have been made in the state to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here's what has happened over the last week:
For all the latest information on the coronavirus outbreak, click here.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect who is filing the lawsuit. It has been updated to include information about the status of the lawsuit and local election plans. We will continue to follow developments and update information as it becomes available.