Protestors Gather Outside Ohio Statehouse to Criticize Coronavirus Shutdowns
Around 75 protesters gathered outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Thursday to criticize the government's restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.
Many wore Guy Fawkes masks over their faces, and at least one held a gun. Their signs criticized the governor's stay-at-home order, closure of schools and shutdown of the economy: "My constitutional rights are essential," "Ohio dies when government lies," "Quarantine the sick not the Constitution," "A free people in a pandemic are still a free people."
Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton acknowledged the chanting that often could be heard during Thursday's press conference. "There are people protesting right now outside the Statehouse. And people are worried. They're afraid. They're afraid about things like their jobs," she said.
Earlier in the day, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services reported that 695,519 residents had submitted jobless claims over the past three weeks.
DeWine said the protesters had every right to be there, although he urged them to "try not to shout on each other." The state's ban on mass gatherings includes allowances for expressing First Amendment rights.
"My job is to communicate as honestly and candidly as I can to the state of Ohio," he said. "I can guarantee to you that we're not going to keep these orders on one day longer than we have to."
Even as the shutdowns slow Ohio's economy, DeWine offered a note of optimism. "Things are not as bad as they might have been," he said.
DeWine credited Ohio residents for their actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Forecast models, which originally predicted a peak of 10,000 new cases per day by mid-April, have dropped in recent days as people stayed home and Ohio's economy slowed to a crawl. Now, the peak is estimated at just 1,600 new cases per day.
"These estimates are getting certainly better," DeWine said at his daily coronavirus press conference. "We say that, all the while knowing that we have Ohioans dying every day."
The Ohio Department of Health on Thursday reported 5,512 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 84 counties, based on limited testing availability. As of Thursday, 213 people have died.
DeWine said that the experts who created the models didn't anticipate such widespread adherence to social distancing restrictions. "By and large, Ohioans have done a bang-up job," he said.
Even the most optimistic projections, DeWine cautions, show that social distancing must continue at the same level for the near future to avoid burdening the health care system. Both DeWine and Acton said they're also concerned about preventing a resurgence of the disease after lifting restrictions.
"If we don't hang in there, if we don’t keep doing what we're doing, it's going to cost a lot of lives and it's going to hurt our ability to economically recover," DeWine said.
Acton said the state will start releasing data indicators that are being used to figure out when business and other restrictions can be lifted.
"I want you to know that we're working just as rigorously on the recovery from this," Acton said.
DeWine said he expects next week to share longer-term plans for Ohio's response.
Ohio's latest efforts
The number of people hospitalized for the disease has risen to 1,612, including 497 people admitted into the ICU, which Acton said was "quite high."
DeWine says Ohio still doesn't have enough personal protective equipment to meet current or future demand. If Ohio isn't able to buy enough PPE, DeWine said the state will figure out how to manufacture them.
"It's our obligation to protect our protectors," DeWine said.
Under the new Ohio Manufacturing Alliance, 19 manufacturers have partnered with three hospital groups to begin producing face shields for health care workers. DeWine says they expect to make between 750,000 to 1 million shields over the next five weeks.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted issued a reminder that Ohio's election has been extended until April 28, although mail-in ballots must be postmarked by April 27. There will not be any in-person voting for the vast majority of the public.
Although the deadline to request an absentee ballot is April 25, Husted said there's no time to wait because the process takes a while to complete.
"Let's be realistic folks," Husted said. "These things have to come through the mail. You're going to want to do it now."
The surge in jobless claims over the last few weeks has hammered Ohio's unemployment website and call center. Husted said ODJFS currently has 1,000 workers processing unemployment claims, and will add additional capacity for the website soon.
While the recent federal CARES Act opened up unemployment benefits for self-employed residents and independent contractors, also known as 1099 workers, Ohio still needs to build the system for those residents to apply for benefits. Husted anticipates that will be available by mid-May.
Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.