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DeWine pleads with area residents to comply with regulations

Washington County saw a 27.7 percent increase last month

WILLIAMSTOWN — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine gathered a two-person Southeast Ohio press corps Friday at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport to plead with the region’s residents.

The governor arrived via an 11-passenger Beechcraft Super King Air 350, a twin-engine turboprop.

“The virus is the biggest threat to our economy. It’s the biggest threat to jobs. It’s the biggest threat to schools,” said DeWine, noting that seven months into the coronavirus pandemic, there is hope, but complacency has led to a surge in cases in the Midwest.

“This part of the state has kind of been spared the worst of it, but even in Washington County, we’ve seen the cases in the last two weeks go up significantly from where they had been,” he explained. “But we’ve gone from 1,000 cases a day to 2,000 cases a day in just a couple of weeks, we’ve seen our positivity numbers go up.”

He described the virus as “looking for victims.”

“It’s looking for hosts and the way we shut it down is with a mask and keep our distance,” said DeWine.

According to the Marietta-Belpre Health Department, in the last month, Washington County saw an increase of 27.7 percent of confirmed cases and specifically within the two cities a 61.1 percent increase in confirmed cases of the virus.

To date, 87 of the county’s 316 confirmed cases were found in residents of the two cities — 69 in Marietta, 16 in Belpre and two yet to be determined.

Marietta-Belpre Health Commissioner Anne Goon said Friday that several cases were also reported Friday morning to the department and had yet to be logged into the state system.

Of that caseload, she said, 30 are presumed still actively contagious and 56 are presumed recovered.

“It’s so much like the lottery, everybody reacts differently,” said DeWine. “You can get a 30-year-old who gets it and it’s just like the flu or something, and then you get another one who ends up in the hospital.”

Locally, the spread by age has impacted infants through those older than 80.

“So it’s not a question of are we going to have the economy moving forward or are we going to keep safe. No. Those two things (have) to go together,” the governor emphasized. “I don’t think fear is what I’m talking about, I want people to have respect for this virus … the direct threat to you and your family is greater today than it has been in the past. But the good news is we have the ability to knock it down and today, unlike seven months ago, today we know what it takes.”

Successes

“In school, the superintendents, principals, teachers and students are by and large doing an excellent job. They’re wearing masks, they’re keeping socially distant, the most distance that they can,” the governor praised. “If there’s widespread virus in the community it will naturally go into the schools and the schools will have no way of keeping it out.”

DeWine described an example in another part of Ohio where a group of confirmed cases within a set of cheerleaders was linked instead to a vehicle journey taken with someone who was positive for coronavirus.

“It didn’t come from their practice or their football game, it came from a car they were in riding,” he explained. “So a lot of this (that’s) associated with schools and the schools are reporting, did not originate in schools.”

In private businesses, he said, spread of the virus is also not a predominant issue.

“We’re seeing some spread in businesses, but not a lot,” DeWine said. “Businesses are generally doing a good job.”

When asked if he anticipates another economic shutdown, curfews or phases of essential and non-essential travel and work again, like this past spring, he said the future rests on personal responsibility.

“If we get to that point where we’d have to see some sort of a lockdown, it’s devastating to our kids in school. It’s devastating to the poorest members of our society,” DeWine said. “It increases mental health problems. It increases poverty. So before any decision is made to do this again, I have to weigh all of those things. So I’m out today to say let’s [not] get to that point.”

Complacency

“It’s a critical time for the state,” said DeWine. “This was predicted by the scientists that when it’d get colder, more people would be inside and we’d see more spread … But our mask-wearing is not as high as it should be and if we could get it up it would really make a big difference … Particularly in our smaller, rural counties we’re not seeing mask compliance as high as we would like.”

When DeWine learned of one local set of cases confirmed over the weekend and resulting in hospitalization and sedation, he expressed sadness and again reiterated the plea for caution.

“Think about that, you have to live with that the rest of your life,” he said of exposing elderly family members or those with underlying health conditions.

“Where we’re seeing the spread is what people do in their ordinary lives. They let their guard down,” explained the governor.

Over and over Friday, he emphasized caution at social events.

“Whether it’s a wedding or a funeral, a baby shower, whether it’s just a little party — these are the times when we’re seeing the most spread. When people let their guard down,” he described. “They take a mask off, they don’t wear it and they think they’re safe.”

Like a false sense of security, but around those one most cares about.

“This virus doesn’t care, it doesn’t care and it’s sneaky because sometimes you can’t tell you have it,” he said.

“Somebody can be standing next to you and talking close to you and if you don’t have a mask on you have no idea they have the virus and they have no idea they got it and now they have spread it to you.”

He reiterated consistently throughout the presser on the tarmac that a mask is a ticket to freedom.

“It takes a mask. It takes social distancing. It takes cautiously going to events and not putting yourself in a dangerous position,” said DeWine.

When calling upon veterans to also mask up, he pointed to their example of sacrifice.

“What we’re asking all Ohioans to do is make a lot smaller sacrifice, now. A lot smaller than you as a veteran made,” said DeWine. “The sacrifice we’re asking Ohioans to make today is just put a mask on, keep your distance and be careful. When you compare that to what some of our veterans went through it’s very small.

Vaccination

DeWine expressed optimism in the development of vaccines for coronavirus, and reminded Ohioans that slowing spread still applies now, and will continue in his rhetoric until a vaccine is widely administered.

“We’re looking at this vaccine coming on and the best experts we can find think it’s going to take a while to roll it out, but by summer we should be well on our way to immunizing anyone that will take it,” he described.

But the governor said he doesn’t anticipate mandating vaccinations for the whole state.

“I think what’s going to happen is once it comes out, you’re going to have experts who are going to talk about it,” DeWine predicted. “Then you’re going to start seeing first responders take it, and people who are the most vulnerable. Then after people see them take it and they do OK, then I think then people will start taking it.”

He praised federal government officials for expediting the vaccine development through funding.

“They’ve put $7 billion in this program and basically told these drug companies, ‘go do it, we’ll fund it and then start making them. And if yours turns out OK, then you already have a lot of them made,'” DeWine said. “I feel cautiously optimistic about that.”

He said he hopes with “enough people” taking the vaccine, normal may be possible again.

“Colleges have a much better ability to mandate stuff. They’re mandating tests now, they’re just telling (staff and students) ‘hey, you’ve got to take a test,'” he added. “It looks like Marietta (College) has done pretty well. The key is these colleges have got to stay aggressive.”

Other Issues

The governor also covered the following issues during his time on the tarmac:

¯ Internet access: The governor vowed to look into how state aid could be assigned to internet access to Southeast Ohio.

¯ Liquor control: The governor acknowledged where some local businesses have been fined for noncompliance with liquor sale time limits and gatherings, but deferred judgment on the state liquor control board’s administration of fines, stating the board is a separate judiciary entity.

He also pledged to review the timeline for awarding new liquor licenses to aid small businesses, locally, after learning of delays spanning more than 10 months from the time of inspection to confirmation and award.

“I will check on that,” he said. “I will talk to the liquor control commission about that and talk with the department about that and I’ll find out.”

¯ Federal stimulus: The governor stated confidence in federal lawmakers to reach a compromise on a second federal stimulus bill this year, and asked that they also consider extending the deadline for expenditure past the end of 2020.

¯ Election Day: “I think it’s possible that (more than) half of Ohio voters will have voted before Election Day, which is something we have never seen in Ohio before,” said DeWine.

“The absentee ballot application is up dramatically and the number of people who are voting in person everyday is very high.”

The governor encouraged the use of voting alternatives, leading up to Nov. 2.

“We have basically a month where we can vote in person… go to the board of elections,” he reminded, noting absentee ballots may also still be mailed or dropped off. “Or … just show up and vote. We think there’s going to be less of a crowd on Election Day because so many people will have already voted.”

Hope

“I look at the mask and I know people don’t like to wear masks,” said the governor. “I get it, but I look at this as really an opportunity for freedom. It enables people to go places.”

And he reminded Ohioans to not give in to fear.

“We can get through this Ohio, we’ve done this before. We’re tough, we’re strong,” DeWine added. “That’s really my message. We can do this.”

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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