Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:
Truth needed from podium
The Sandusky Register
The message from the podium in Washington is that testing for the COVID-19 virus is robust, perfect.
“Let me just say, we are the king of testing already. There’s no country in the world that’s done more. Not even — not even close,” President Donald J. Trump said Wednesday during the daily coronavirus task force briefing.
The message from the podium is false.
Look no further than the Ohio Veterans Home in Perkins Township for proof of that. There are about 525 elderly veterans living there along with another 550 employees who work there and care for these men and women who served their nation when called. And although nursing homes are particularly at risk during this pandemic, and older Americans suffer more severe illness and more death from infection, there is no testing available at the Ohio Veterans Home.
There’s no monitoring, no contact tracing, no data about the rate of infection and no timetable when those things will become available.
We think the federal task force should use the Ohio Veterans Home as its barometer for determining whether states and the federal government are successfully implementing a testing program in Ohio and across the nation. When they provide testing for seniors and for home veterans, then the task force members each can claim success.
Until that happens, nobody in the briefing room or on the task force should lay claim to success, even if that means members of the task force are forced to call out the president when he slips and claims great success where none exists.
Area hospitals and health care facilities across the nation face the same reality — testing is limited, true infection rates are unknown, and most everybody who wants a test cannot get a test for the virus at this time. The employees who work at the OVH, who daily extend great and loving care for our veterans, do not have the masks and other personal protective equipment they need. Hospital workers, too, don’t have adequate supplies of PPE, another truth not being reported from the podium.
The truth is the first tests developed by the federal response teams were flawed, and that caused a delay. The truth is that ramping up a massive, nationwide testing program is an enormous undertaking that has overwhelmed the abilities of labs to process tests. Ramping up a supply chain that can meet the demand for PPE, too, is an enormous task. The truth is it might take weeks or months to bring it home. The truth is not a rosy picture of perfection. It is, rather, an intersection of difficult and complicated circumstances that will require steady and thoughtful leadership to drive toward a solution, to bring about a testing program that will help pull this nation out of its shutdown.
That’s not the truth we’re getting from the podium, but it’s the truth we should demand.
Give credit to those helping others amid pandemic
The Lorain Morning Journal
So many people are hurting from this novel coronavirus pandemic, but it’s good to see individuals and organizations stepping up to assist those in need.
This is especially true in Northeast Ohio where we have seen high levels of donations and giving during the nastiness of COVID-19.
This very contagious disease has ravaged our earth with countless infections, sickness, hospitalizations, and unfortunately, deaths.
But since this pandemic began, there’s been no shortage of giving in this nation, and we can look specifically at Northeast Ohio, including Cuyahoga, Lake and Lorain counties.
Lubrizol Corp., a Wickliffe-based manufacturer and developer of specialty chemicals, partnered with two other manufacturers to donate much-needed medical and personal hygiene supplies to hospitals that are dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
Those contributions were made as Lubrizol engaged in separate endeavors with GOJO and Nike.
Lubrizol and GOJO united to donate more than 16,000 liters of Purell hand sanitizer to Northeast Ohio hospitals.
GOJO, based in Akron, manufactures Purell hand sanitizer, as well as other skin-care and hygiene products.
Both companies arranged with the CEOs of each hospital system in Cuyahoga, Summit and Wayne counties to provide a 1-liter bottle of hand sanitizer to every patient room for the months of April and May.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Lubrizol and GOJO have worked together to prioritize production and distribution of key products to hospitals, first responders and providers of essential infrastructure.
Lubrizol also joined forces with Nike to help protect frontline medical workers in the battle against COVID-19.
To support Nike’s efforts to develop and donate full-face shields and powered, air-purifying respirator lenses to hospitals in several U.S. cities, Lubrizol donated Estane thermoplastic polyurethane polymers.
Also, Daniel P. Troy, Lake County’s representative on the Northern Ohio Public Energy Council Board of Directors, recently announced that the McKinley Community Outreach Center in Willoughby, received a $12,022 grant for its food bank from the newly created NOPEC Foundation.
Troy said Lake County is fortunate and certainly blessed to have a strong social service network in place to assist those in need, especially with the unprecedented demand for the services it provides in feeding and caring for individuals and families in need.
Shifting to the west side of Cleveland, the Lorain County COVID-19 Response Fund Community Advisory Committee announced April 22 a second round of grants to support Lorain County nonprofits.
The group awarded $60,000 to six organizations to help provide support during this pandemic within the priorities of emergency assistance and basic needs, education and youth services and infrastructure.
Since its inception, the Lorain County COVID-19 Response Fund has received more than $200,000 from corporations, civic and philanthropic partners, including donations from individuals and families across the county.
Grants awarded from the second round include the Blessing House receiving $10,000 to provide hotel accommodations for homeless families, as well as supplies and food; Primary Purpose Center, $10,000, to supply food, perishable supplies and utilities to clients who have lost employment due to COVID-19; Mercy Health Foundation, $10,000, to keep up with the demand for personal protection equipment, patient services, medication, ventilators and other medical equipment; The LCADA Way, $10,000, to distribute laptops and hotspots with built-in 4G internet access to seniors and home-bound residents to promote digital inclusion and to combat the ever growing social isolation.
In addition, the Effective Leadership Academy received $10,000 to provide online resources for students and teachers to provide social and emotional skills programming for 500 students within three Lorain County school districts; and the Lorain Public Library System was awarded $10,000 to promote digital inclusion and combat social isolation among the elderly and home-bound population.
The library system will distribute laptops and hotspots with built-in 4G internet access.
This is a unique and worthy act of kindness from the COVID-19 Response Fund to invest in a collaborative effort to address digital inclusion and social isolation among senior citizens.
It’s also good to see these groups forging partnerships to bring connectivity, technology and social connection to improve the health and well-being of the community.
These grants were selected by a Community Advisory Committee representing front line service providers, and the committee plans to continue to make grants through June, with the potential to extend grant opportunities as needed and as additional funding sources become available through new partners joining the effort.
Of course, we have to mention the food pantries across Northeast Ohio that have raised money and sought donations to feed people in need.
People and organizations have stepped up to help others during these difficult times.
This giving truly shows that humanity still is prevalent in our society.
What took place in Northeast Ohio communities the past week, surely proves it.
After the coronavirus, Ohio lawmakers should clarify state officials’ powers in a health emergency, including over election timing and citizens’ rights
Cleveland Plain Dealer
The coronavirus assaulting Ohioans, and the state’s efforts to fight it, demonstrate the need to balance liberty and safety amid Gov. Mike DeWine’s quest to protect Ohioans.
Ohio’s stay-at-home order and the state-ordered closing of “nonessential” businesses highlight that conundrum to perhaps the greatest degree since 1918, when an influenza pandemic, amid World War I, killed some 4,400 Clevelanders. Ohioans’ agony 100 years ago helped lead to Ohio’s state-local partnership for protecting public health.
The current stay-at-home order, issued by Ohio’s Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, is scheduled to end at 11:59 p.m. this Friday, May 1. Besides the stay-at-home provision, the order allows only “essential” businesses to stay open -- essential, as Acton defined them, and as a new state panel now decides in disputed cases.
According to the Ohio Supreme Court’s Judicial Guide to Public Health, “The Department of Health has supreme authority in matters of quarantine, which it may declare, enforce, modify, relax, and abolish.” That’s a gloss on, not a quote from, the Revised Code. It’s doubtful state law is that clear.
Acton’s order closing nonessential businesses has withstood a challenge in the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio. The owner of a Columbus bridal shop asked the court to overturn the order. The court refused. Harm to business owners is “speculative,” Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley wrote. “(But) the harm to the public if the Director’s order is enjoined is potentially catastrophic.”
Nonetheless, the pandemic and its consequences raise issues that Ohio law had not anticipated. The day before Ohio’s scheduled March 17 primary election, for example, Acton (with DeWine’s approval) postponed it, citing health risks the pandemic created.
The Ohio General Assembly has since passed House Bill 197. It extends absentee voting for what was to have been March 17’s election to this Tuesday, April 28.
The bill does not, however, allow in-person voting in the primary (with some specific narrow exceptions), or provide a permanent remedy in case disease or weather disrupts future Ohio elections.
The state needs permanent legislation to cover those future perils.
The legislature also urgently needs to update Ohio’s statutory language on public health emergencies to clearly define the scope of state officials’ power, including how far they might extend over the economy and citizens’ movements, as well as Ohio health officials’ obligation to protect the public’s right to know critical details in a pandemic.
As we have repeatedly editorialized, greater transparency and more consistency, timeliness and clarity in reporting on pandemic cases, deaths, locations and other disease and demographic indicators are sorely needed.
Meanwhile, DeWine and Acton need to take a closer look at the strict distancing at many long-term care facilities for the elderly and frail. The prohibitions, reflecting the severe risks of death from coronavirus contagion in these settings, are likely to continue well beyond May 1. But they have kept many Ohioans from the deathbeds of beloved relatives or friends, and are preventing family visits to those with deteriorating cognitive skills who sorely need the company, reassurance and stimulation.
It may be that, pending scientific advances, closer contact will remain inadvisable. Surely, though, intermediate solutions are worth considering from a whole-family, end-of-life, perspective.
Tied to that, not only should Ohio further empower third-party advocates (i.e., ombudsmen) for the state’s nursing home residents, as our editorial board advocated a week ago, but the General Assembly should also consider similar advocates for Ohio’s hospital patients, especially (but not just) during the coronavirus contagion.
If those who love a patient cannot visit him or her, they cannot monitor that person’s care. That is a chasm in Ohio’s health-care landscape the General Assembly must bridge for patients, and their families.
The Ohio legislature needs to dive deeply into all these issues -- to clear up the confusion, define more clearly the lines of authority in emergencies and take a broad look at how best to balance citizens’ safety and rights during a pandemic, to make sure they remain in appropriate equilibrium.
Help for this city
The coronavirus pandemic has hit cities, including this one, hard.
As Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has recently pointed out, state and local governments rely on income and sales tax revenue. If people are not shopping, they aren’t paying sales tax. If people aren’t working, they aren’t paying income tax.
The $281.1 million operating budget Toledo approved in March is already in tatters thanks to the virus. The Kapszukiewicz administration knows it must cut at least $10 million from that budget, but officials are bracing for the possibility that they may need to cut as much as $50 million.
The mayor placed 326 city employees on temporary emergency leave to cut expenses, enacted a hiring freeze, and began looking for other places to make cuts. He may have to do more.
All cities need help, including midsize and small cities. Some of them need help more than the larger cities.
But under the terms of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, only communities of 500,000 people or more can qualify for direct relief.
This means that while Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cuyahoga County (which has a strong county government system) qualify, Toledo does not.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D, Toledo) has a way to fix this. She sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin urging him to grant a request from Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments to have direct coronavirus aid sent to it to distribute to its member communities. TMACOG represents about 800,000 people — in Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Wood counties in Ohio, as well as Monroe County in Michigan — and thus would qualify.
Miss Kaptur, aided by Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who co-signed the letter, has urged the treasury secretary to recognize TMACOG as a legitimate instrument of regional government. Though its focus is mostly on water and transportation TMACOG could certainly perform this function.
This is a creative idea and an eminently fair one. And as we learn more about the bailout, we are learning that it has been applied in many unfair ways. This is a means to correct an injustice.
Regardless of how responsibly local governments have managed their budgets and kept taxes in check, they will be hammered by the economic effects of the pandemic. This includes midsize cities like Akron, Dayton, and Youngstown.
The struggle to meet budget and provide services is every bit as acute in those communities, and Toledo, as Columbus or Cleveland, and this needs to be recognized.
As Congress fashions future rounds of relief measures, lawmakers must learn from the errors of earlier bills, making sure to pass legislation that aids all the people and all the cities and towns that need help.
Meanwhile, Rep. Kaptur has a solution for a gross inequity.
Virtual meetings must remain open
We’re big proponents of government transparency in the best of times.
It’s even more important now that our governing boards from councils to school boards and trustees face an unprecedented crisis following the forced closure of our economy to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
We only have early estimates for how badly income and sales tax revenue will plummet this year, undoubtedly creating challenging decisions about budget cuts, service reductions and layoffs. Ohio law requires local governments to balance their budgets every year.
There’s tremendous uncertainty about how quickly Ohio can reopen and when the public will be willing to open their wallets and start spending again. The longer that takes, the more challenging decisions will become. Some mayors across Ohio worry they may need to layoff police officers and firefighters.
Those choices will undoubtedly be decided in public meetings citizens may not be able to attend in person.
When Gov. Mike DeWine issued his stay-at-home order last month, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost issued wise guidance allowing boards who normally must meet openly in public to instead meet virtually online. Ohio lawmakers later made that law.
While virtual meetings are allowed and smart right now, the public must be able to hear all discussions and deliberations at such virtual meetings. Most are being broadcast on Zoom or YouTube.
Boards can still recess into private executive sessions if they meet the normal exceptions of Ohio’s Open Meetings law, including personnel and legal matters among others.
While most boards quickly have adapted to virtual meetings or suspended meetings unless vital matters need approval, others are testing the limits of transparency.
The worst offender we’ve seen so far is the Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education, which recessed into executive session on April 15 with no further business on its agenda. Most boards typically adjourn once their private conversation ends.
But this board returned, added an unexpected item to its agenda and awarded its superintendent a four year-contract extension even though his current deal expires in July 2021. Even worse, the vote was not broadcast publicly as required.
The board will properly vote on the contract extension again on May 6 while broadcasting online to make it legal.
We offer this example as a clear case of what all boards need to avoid without commenting on the merits of the contract extension itself. Agendas should not be modified at the last second unless there is a true emergency, which should be the case all of the time.
We also would urge all boards to ensure public participation remains a part of their agendas regardless of the challenges it creates right now.
At the least, the board should have someone read comments it has received in advance during public sessions. Some boards are asking residents who wish to speak to register in advance so they can receive a phone call at the proper time and share their views via the live broadcast. There are plenty of ways to make it work.
The pandemic requires all of us to adapt and public debates are no exception.
But the principles of transparency are more important than ever.