COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a first-ever evening news conference about COVID-19, Gov. Mike DeWine implored the residents of Ohio to wear a mask and take other steps to stop the spread of coronavirus amid a new surge of cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks but did not announce any new orders or mandates to enforce this plea.
DeWine opened the evening address by tamping down expectations of a new statewide health order mandating masks or initiating another lockdown of businesses.
“If all of us do not take immediate action to slow this virus down, the tragedy that we see playing out on our television screens every day in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California may well be our reality in just a matter of weeks," DeWine said. "The good news is that this nightmare does not have to be our future. Now, some have wondered what new health orders might be issued tonight. That’s a discussion for another time. As your governor, I will take whatever action is necessary to protect the people of this state.”
The governor provided some historical perspective on how this pandemic compares to other disasters the state has faced.
“Our future truly lies in our own hands," he said. "Ohioans have faced many challenges throughout time wars, floods, tornadoes, but really nothing quite like this since Gov. James Cox was our governor during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.”
The collective sacrifice Ohioans made earlier this year as the pandemic grew out of control in other parts of the country was recognized by DeWine.
“In Ohio, you did what Ohioans always do. You rally. You rally together," he said. "You did what needed to be done early in this fight. And you took a collective leap of faith in a battle against an invisible enemy the likes of which had been seen in Ohio and this country in more than a hundred years. You made extraordinary sacrifices. You left school. You left work. You stayed home. You missed loved ones, you missed milestones. Yes, you missed paychecks. Because you’re Ohioans: strong, steadfast, selfless. You also saved many lives.”
DeWine took the prime time address as an opportunity to address one widespread belief, that the rise in positive cases is due solely to increased testing in Ohio.
“Now, I know that some say that our case numbers are increasing because we’re simply doing more testing. Yes, we certainly are doing more testing and we want to do more testing. In fact, our testing has gone up by 87%, but our number of positive cases has skyrocketed to almost 200%. Clearly, our number of new cases is not just the result of increased testing.”
“Today, more Ohioans are getting sick than at any previous point in this pandemic. We are sliding down a very dangerous path, with our once flattened-curve starting to sharpen and spike,” said DeWine. “This is a worrisome, disturbing reversal of our progress -- a jarring reminder of just how quickly our fate can change.”
The governor then made a heartfelt appeal to Ohioans to take action themselves to stop the spread of the virus.
"My friends, this is not a drill. This certainly is not any hoax. This is not a dress rehearsal. It's the real thing. The enemy is here and Ohioans have simply come too far in this fight to cede ground now. My fellow Ohioans, you have changed history with this virus before. You did it. You can do it again, but I am afraid that our window of opportunity may be soon closing. As we have seen in Florida, California, Arizona and Texas. Once things start moving downhill, they move very quickly. And it's so very, very hard then to turn things back around. My fellow Ohioans, you, all of us, together, we have the power to change that future. This is a defining time, the defining time for each one of us. And there has been no greater call in recent times for Ohioans than for us to call upon our better angels, as President Abraham Lincoln said, to do what is right to protect each other."
Some Northeast Ohio business owners, like Kim Shapiro, co-owner of the Twisted Citrus Grill in North Canton, told News 5 she's concerned the DeWine speech sets-up financial uncertainty. She's hoping the speech isn't a precursor to a partial business shutdown or rollback in the coming weeks.
“It’s hard, I was trying to explain to somebody else it’s like trying to do sales projections in quicksand, you have no idea what’s coming around the corner,” Shapiro said.
“It's tough right now with the social distancing in place, we were never meant to survive and be profitable with 50% occupancy.”
“Is he going to take some action may be sooner rather than later, which could mean a rollback?”
Joan Hamm, Executive Director, with Children First of Cleveland daycare told News 5 it's crucial everyone wears a mask while in public.
She believes more consistent mask-wearing is the only way to avoid a second state shutdown, something she believes her business may not survive.
“I think it will have a dramatic impact on us, I’m not sure if we close that we'd be able to reopen,” Hamm said.
“So get on-board, wear a mask.”
“If someone were walking out the door at a grocery store you would hold the door open for them. This is the exact same thing, you need to wear a mask to protect each other.”
DeWine shared some sobering statistics on the spread and scope of COVID-19 in places like Arizona and Florida, and said, "If we do not change course, Florida and Arizona will be our future."
The governor then asked every Ohio resident to take action to stem the spread of the disease.
"I'm asking each one of you wherever you live in Ohio, whatever county, whatever the alert color of your county, to wear a mask every time you go out in public," he said. "I know some may still question the wisdom of wearing a mask. But as we used to say when I was a prosecuting attorney, 'the jury's back. The verdict is in.' There is a broad consensus today in the medical, health and business communities that masks are critical."
If cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the disease continue to go up, DeWine, said, "We would have to consider a lockdown that essentially would subtract five percentage points of the country's gross domestic product. Certainly not something we want to do. But masks are not enough, they're not enough."
He also reminded residents to continue with social distancing and to limit public gatherings so that Ohioans can protect themselves and their loved ones.
"We all want to go back to the way things were," he said. "And that's very, very understandable. But when we do, we're literally playing a Russian roulette game with our own lives and our families and our neighbors. Good decisions will protect the economy and save lives. Reckless ones will hurt and kill. Now, these are tough questions for all of us. But we need to ask ourselves, will that family reunion be worth it if our grandmother later tests positive for COVID and dies? Will that neighborhood cookout be worth it if your neighbor ends up alone on a ventilator in intensive care? Will that play date be worth it if the kids go back, can't go back to school at all in the fall? We're all tired of being cooped up. I know your kids want to be with their friends. Fran, I know that our grandchildren certainly do as well. But we have to ask ourselves what's better, knowing you did all you could to keep your family and your neighbors safe and our economy open, or taking risks that lead to illness, death and another economic shutdown? Don't we all want to be around to meet our future children, our future grandchildren?"
DeWine implored his fellow citizens to heed his calls.
“I am calling on all Ohioans to once again unite. We must work together, support each other, and help each other through this challenging time," he said. "I’ve seen you do this. I know you can do this. Ohioans can continue to help our most vulnerable, while also protecting ourselves and our families. Together, we can be the Ohio where our hospitals are not overwhelmed, where our schools can open, where sports can start, and where our economy can continue to grow," DeWine said.
Finally, DeWine presented a hopeful vision of the future in Ohio.
"I remain an optimist, and I truly believe that we will rise out of the great tragedy of this virus and all that it has laid bare, positive things will come out of our struggle," he said. American and Ohioan, ingenuity, innovation, creativity, deeper relationships with our family, with our friends, and a stronger, renewed sense of community and our obligations to one another. Out of this struggle we will learn and we will emerge stronger, better, more tougher, more resilient. As the Bible tells us in Galatians: Let us not grow weary of doing good for in due season we will reap if we do not give up. Ohioans never give up. And Ohioans will not grow weary of doing good in helping to protect each other. We are Buckeyes. We are strong and we will not relent as we forge a path forward, united, united in building Ohio's great future."
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