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DeWine: COVID-19 bill ‘a disaster’

Governor says legislation removes tools for health officials to deal with pandemic

Gov. Mike DeWine said he will veto a bill that would limit the Ohio Department of Health’s ability to implement health orders to confine the spread of disease now and in the future.

“This bill would make Ohio slow to respond to a crisis, take tools away from this governor or future governors and put the lives of Ohioans in jeopardy. This bill is a disaster,” DeWine said.

The bill likely is “well intentioned,” De- Wine said, but the ramifications are too great.

“This is not a bill that can become law,” DeWine said, noting he would have a “moral obligation” to veto the bill.

The bill “prohibits the Department of Health from issuing a general, mandatory statewide or regional quarantine or isolation order that applies to and is enforced against individuals who have not been either directly exposed to or medically diagnosed with the disease that is the subject of the order.” And it “allows the General Assembly to adopt a concurrent resolution to rescind certain ODH orders or rules for preventing the spread of contagious or infectious diseases,” according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.

The Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 311 in a 20-13 vote in September. Nearly all of the Republican state senators voted in favor of the bill, including local lawmaker Michael Rulli of Salem. Democrat Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, voted against the bill.

The bill was voted on Thursday in the House, where it passed 58-30, which is not a high enough margin to prevent a veto by DeWine.

Rep. Michael J. O’Brien, D-Warren, said he is against the bill and believes the Ohio Department of Health should have the authority to implement health orders.

The bill’s sponsors, Sens. Rob McColley and Kristan Roegner, stated in testimony in May that the legislation giving the health department control over health orders is outdated and too broad.

The bill would limit an order to 14 days and require extensions to go through the state legislature.

“The executive branch retains the power to address special emergency situations on an as-needed basis for a reasonable period of time, at which point it must gain the support of the legislature to continue. This counterbalances a level of needed flexibility with government restraint, ensuring safety can be protected, while freedoms are respected,” the testimony states.

DeWine said he also would veto a bill that passed the House 77-10 on Wednesday that would allow any business closed by a public order to open as long as it follows the rules and regulations set for businesses that were allowed to stay open as an essential business.

O’Brien said he voted for House Bill 621 because he believes it is more fair to the small business owner.

Even if a small business sells similar items and follows health precautions, they can be closed, while a “big box” store like Walmart gets to stay open and continue selling the same items, because they are considered essential.

“I think when it comes to products that merchants sell, you have to be consistent and presently there are inconsistencies. The same product is being sold, but there are two rules, one for small businesses and one for big box stores,” O’Brien said. “The way it is set up now creates winners and losers in the business industry. This bill puts small business owners on a more level playing field.”

COVID-19 CASES, DEATHS

New deaths were reported Thursday in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

Two new deaths were reported in Trumbull County, bringing the total to 142; one new death was reported in Mahoning County, bringing the total to 298; and two new deaths were reported in Columbiana County, bringing the total to 95.

New daily cases in all three counties hit new highs Thursday; Mahoning County added 200 cases, Trumbull County added 231 cases and Columbiana County added 104 cases. Total cases crested over the 3,000 mark in Columbiana County, with 3,052 cases, and past the 6,000 mark in Mahoning County, with 6,141 cases. Trumbull County has now seen 4,466 cases.

Twenty-three percent of all of the cases reported in Trumbull County since the beginning of the pandemic occurred in the past week, when the county added 1,031 cases in the week between Nov. 12 and Thursday.

About 18 percent of the total number of cases in Mahoning County were reported in the last week when the county added 1,076 cases. And in Columbiana County, about 14 percent of the total number of cases were reported in the past week, with 440 new cases.

Columbiana County joined Mahoning and Trumbull counties at Level 3, red, in the Ohio Public Health Advisory System.

More people being treated in hospitals and intensive care units than there have been at any other point in the pandemic, with 3,829 hospitalized and 943 in ICUs.

These are the highest patient counts Ohio has had during the pandemic and more than double the hospitalizations recorded during previous peaks, according to DeWine.

The state reported 63 new deaths Thursday, well above the 21-day average of 29 deaths a day.

While statewide testing has increased by 43 percent, positive cases have increased by nearly 300 percent in the past month, according to DeWine’s office.

Thursday was the first time a county in Ohio reached the Level 4, purple, indicator of spread, in Franklin County. Its county seat is Columbus.

Though the state added at least 7,877 new cases Thursday, the number is higher, DeWine said.

Figures for Thursday are incomplete because there have been 12,000 antigen tests since Monday that have not been counted because they have to be fact checked. Most of the 12,000 are expected to be confirmed, DeWine said.

“What it shows is the number we’re reporting, which is already a very, very high number, 7,877, is appreciably higher than that,” DeWine said.

More information about the issue is expected today, DeWine said.

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