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Governor suggests compromise possible on health order limits

Gov. Mike DeWine
Posted at 9:06 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 21:06:07-05

COLUMBUS — A compromise might be possible over legislative efforts to restrict Ohio’s public health orders in a pandemic, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday as he stepped back from a suggestion earlier this week he would automatically veto the pending bill.

DeWine, a Republican, also toned down his criticism of a handful of school districts that say they might not make a March 1 deadline to offer in-person learning.

As recently as Feb. 12, DeWine scheduled a last-minute, early evening news conference to rebuke school officials in Akron and Cincinnati for backtracking on their commitments to meet the deadline. DeWine called that unacceptable after employees in those districts were among those prioritized for coronavirus vaccines because of their reopening promises.

But on Thursday, asked about a report that Youngstown city schools also might not make the deadline, DeWine was more conciliatory.

“The fact that some schools may miss this by a few days is not good, but I think we need to keep our eye on the ball,” he said. “The glass is about 95% full, and we should not fixate on the 5% or so that is not full.”

On Wednesday, the GOP-controlled Senate approved a bill that would limit public health emergency orders to 90 days, and also give the General Assembly the power to rescind those orders by resolution after 30 days. It was the latest in a series of nearly yearlong efforts by fellow Republicans, frustrated by things like the statewide mask mandate and the now expired curfew, to curtail the governor’s public health powers.

DeWine said Tuesday he’d veto the bill if it reached his desk. On Thursday, he said a change to the bill that puts the decision in the hands of the entire Legislature and not a joint House-Senate committee was an improvement.

“If there’s a way that we can reach accommodation we will. If we can’t we won’t. Time will tell,” DeWine said. “But I think we owe it to the people of the state to try to reach that accommodation.”

Also Thursday, DeWine said the state’s two veterans’ homes will reopen to new admissions “very, very soon.” He said the homes in Georgetown in southern Ohio and Sandusky in northern Ohio have done a good job with vaccinations.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that both homes have growing waiting lists and are operating well below capacity compared to before the pandemic.

“We’re not going to take a whole bunch of people in one week, but we’re going to start slowly start opening that back up and see how it goes,” DeWine said, adding that reaching full capacity will take time.

With nearly all nursing home and assisted living residents now having received both shots of the vaccine, Ohio is also launching a program to be sure new residents are vaccinated, as well as employees who may have declined to be vaccinated initially.

Vaccination acceptance has been nearly universal among residents of Ohio’s long-term care facilities, while only about four in 10 employees of those facilities have agreed to the shots.

Staff vaccination rates are slightly higher at the two veterans’ homes, with just over five of every 10 employees getting vaccinated.

In addition, the governor said he hopes to announce updated guidelines for nursing home visits soon.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 4,063 new cases per day on Feb. 3 to 2,354 new cases per day on Feb. 17, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by The COVID Tracking Project.

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