Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:
Nursing home residents must be protected
The Warren Tribune Chronicle
About 40 percent of the more than 146,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 have been residents of nursing homes. Somehow, despite knowing older people with pre-existing health conditions are most vulnerable to the virus, we as a nation allowed that to happen.
Many of the deaths occurred during the early weeks of the epidemic, before the need for extraordinary long-term care safeguards was apparent. Many others were the result of wrongheaded action by public officials.
For a few days, it seemed as if COVID-19 was on the run in the United States. Then, millions of people suffering from overconfidence dropped their guard. Now, the epidemic seems to have gotten its second wind.
And in some states, new cases are popping up in nursing homes. More of the very people who should have been able to rely in an additional layer of protection will die because we have slipped. That is inexcusable.
Throughout the nation, common-sense measures such as social distancing, personal hygiene and use of face coverings while in public places are being ignored by many. Clearly, that provides a larger community pool of infected people, from which the virus can be transmitted into our long-term care facilities.
They have to be staffed, after all, and that means anything outside the walls of a nursing home can be taken inside.
Given resistance by so many to behaviors that could curb the spread of COVID-19, that train may have left the station. That leaves it up to nursing home administrators and staff, along with local and state governments, to erect barriers against the disease. The most effective is bans on visitors to nursing home residents. Another helpful step is frequent testing of both nursing home residents and staff.
This amounts to a whatever-it-takes situation. If it is not addressed as such, tens of thousands more older Americans may perish — needlessly.
Federal funds needed to support hydropower
With all the talk about renewable energy in America, we have heard little about one old reliable source — hydropower. Fortunately, though hydroelectricity seems to have been sidelined by emphasis on technologies including wind and solar power, it has not been forgotten.
More than a year ago, U.S. Rep. McKinley, R-W.Va., introduced HR 3361 — the RIVER Act — in the House of Representatives. Finally, in July, the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced the bill.
HR 3361 would increase the stream of federal funding to aid hydropower projects. As McKinley’s office noted, in fiscal 2016, Congress provided a drop-in-the-bucket “up to $3.9 million” for hydropower incentives. The Department of Energy used just $3.5 million of that, despite applications for $9.9 million.
Pumping billions of dollars into support for solar and wind power projects while limiting hydropower incentives to seven figures is ridiculous. Certainly, Ohio residents are beginning to see the kind of underhanded behavior that has shored up other energy sources in recent years.
Good for McKinley for recognizing the problem and addressing it through HR 3361.
The full House, then the U.S. Senate, should approve the bill expeditiously — without the one-year delay it took for the measure to get through a committee.
Better data to fight the virus
Ohio has placed a huge amount of responsibility for keeping communities safe during this coronavirus pandemic on local authorities, particularly local health departments. And to do that, those local officials must have good, timely data about the virus.
Increasingly, local officials are struggling to find the data they need to quickly address outbreak hotspots, calculate positive-test rates, and provide their communities with information because the coronavirus data provided by state authorities is unreliable.
Among the most critical issues, county health departments often do not receive the total number of coronavirus tests performed in their counties. Without this, it is impossible to calculate the local positivity rate, even if authorities know how many positive tests were recorded. That makes it unreasonably difficult for authorities to determine whether community spread of the virus is on the rise or on the decline. And that makes it harder to halt contagion.
Admittedly, collecting, crunching, and disseminating the state’s coronavirus data is a huge challenge. This data comes from myriad sources who may not be consistently reporting it and the data is complicated. Compiling it and sharing it quickly is tricky.
But particularly since Ohio began its reopening in late spring, with businesses and restaurants reopening and residents beginning once again to travel more frequently, the state has relied on local health authorities to manage coronavirus response. These local agencies must respond quickly when an outbreak emerges. They also are responsible for enforcing many of the statewide virus-related orders, including health precautions in businesses and public mask mandates.
That means getting these health departments the information they need to track the spread of coronavirus locally is critical. There may be no more important work for state health authorities at the moment.
The DeWine administration simply must move swiftly to enact whatever reforms are required to improve the accuracy and reliability of coronavirus data coming from the state to local health departments. Whether that means more number-crunchers on the task, better technology, or a revamped reporting process, the state has to deliver the information local agencies need.
Old-fashioned fair, break on fares, no GOP money to spare
It’s hard to picture many tears being shed for elected Ohio Republicans who hitched their political wagons to Rep. Larry Householder — removed by his peers as House speaker on Thursday, then indicted for racketeering — only to find themselves driverless, less than three months from their next election, and without much campaign cash because Householder controlled most of it and it’s now part of a federal case. Sometimes you have an overwhelming advantage conferred by gerrymandering and corruption, and sometimes the bear eats you.
↓ Please, please tell us that no one actually believed that Kroger is adding a “Black Lives Matter tax” to customers’ bills, as somebody tried to assert via a forged grocery receipt that went viral on Facebook. Because of a nationwide shortage of coins, the grocery giant is not giving coin change, instead allowing customers to choose whether to store up the value on a loyalty card or donate it to food banks. That was the real extra charge on the receipt that was altered to say “BLM tax.” We hope this is a wake-up call for people who get swept up in social-media outrage. But our hopes aren’t up very far.
The Central Ohio Transit Authority is supporting central Ohio during the pandemic in the best way it can: continuing to operate without fares for the foreseeable future. Even as more office workers do their jobs at home, cutting into COTA’s revenue, front-line workers who need the bus to get to work no doubt can use the savings they’re seeing. It’s an excellent use of the $50 million in federal CARES aid that COTA received.
No doubt, lots of Ohioans will miss the rides, the gooey fried food, the crowds, the entertainment and even the midway games of dubious fairness that usually make up a county fair. But if you’re one who has pined for the more wholesome days when fairs were about farm kids showing off the results of their hard work, this is your year. Gov. Mike DeWine’s pandemic-related order limiting the events to junior-fair livestock showings at least will give the kids more of the spotlight they deserve.
Who knew? The same pandemic that has millions spending more and more time looking at screens as they work from home and visit via Zoom also seems to be driving increased sales of ... books. The real ones, with paper pages that you turn by hand. All through April they were flying off the shelves of stores like Target and Walmart, open during the shutdown because they sell groceries and other essentials. If this rediscovery of the pleasures of reading persists, it will be a good COVID side effect.
Slow down, Ohio. Speeding drivers apparently have taken what could be a pandemic benefit — reduced traffic — and turned it into more highway deaths. An Ohio State University study of drivers in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland found increased instances of speeding, including “extreme speeding” of 25 mph or more above the limit.
Corrupt Republicans, naive Democrats and a company’s horrible choices
Akron Beacon Journal
There’s plenty of blame to be cast as Ohioans begin to comprehend the scope of our state’s latest corruption scandal, which revealed an epic breach of trust by a sworn leader and one of Akron’s most important brands.
Republican state Rep. Larry Householder, the now-former speaker of the Ohio House facing federal racketeering charges, led a shocking betrayal of Ohioans last year as depicted in a detailed 80-page FBI affidavit on the $60 million scheme. Regardless of the legal outcome of his case, his willingness to use millions of anonymous “dark” dollars to air deceitful ads invoking fear to benefit one company finally reveals his true character for all to see.
What’s almost as shocking is how much help Householder and his four Republican conspirators needed to pass House Bill 6, a $1.3 billion energy bailout funded by electric customers.
Republicans dominate state government not because a supermajority of Ohioans agree with their principles and support their candidates. Gerrymandering engineered by Republicans nearly 10 years ago ensures most state legislative candidates face token opposition, grouping likely Democratic voters into as few districts as possible. That’s why today’s House includes 61 Republicans and 38 Democrats. Never mind that Ohioans don’t always vote Republican in statewide elections.
While it’s likely many Republicans were unaware of Householder’s corruption, he needed help to fulfill his 2019 mission to pass the bailout mostly benefiting two nuclear power plants then owned by a FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary. At least 10 Republicans in office today benefited from Householder using money the FBI claims FirstEnergy or its affiliates sent to a dark-money group called Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) group not required to identify its donors.
With millions in cash, Householder funded shameful negative ads against candidates he opposed and helped elect representatives he needed to become speaker and push the bill. Some he trusted are mentioned in the affidavit as attending a dinner where Householder’s motives and unethical tactics were laid bare. Other Republicans figured out Householder was orchestrating the entire drama from the shadows, including false advertising claiming China was taking over Ohio’s electric grid. Some expressed concerns internally. At least one spoke to the FBI as Householder greased the bill through the Statehouse and forcefully defeated a referendum effort.
Ironically, a majority of House Republicans never wanted Householder to regain the speakership he first left due to term limits amid another FBI investigation in 2004.
It took 26 Democrat and 26 Republican votes to turn Householder into the king of the House, an effort coordinated by current House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron. With so few Democratic representatives, Sykes and others saw an overture from Householder as an opportunity to increase their voice and reduce partisanship.
As noble as that sounded, Democrats should have known they were making a deal with an ethically challenged bully.
It’s unfortunate Democrats now are trying to conveniently forget their role in this drama. Some statements issued in recent days, including Sykes’ “we don’t trust” any Republican ring hollow to us. You trusted the wrong Republican.
The origin of this whole mess sadly is Akron, where FirstEnergy Corp. faced a real dilemma of operating uncompetitive nuclear plants that produce nearly all of Ohio’s non-carbon-burning power. The company has denied any wrongdoing and tried to minimize its role in the management of bankrupt subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions, now operating as the independent Energy Harbor.
Regardless, FirstEnergy did acknowledge it spent about $15 million of the $60 million documented by the FBI, with most of the balance presumably coming from Energy Harbor.
We have to question the leadership of any company hiding its political contributions while funding a campaign to deliberately confuse the very citizens it serves. It’s especially troubling that the bailout helped Energy Harbor (former FES) emerge from bankruptcy and watch its stock price rise until recent events.
Many serious legal questions about who benefited from Householder’s plot remain unanswered.
But it’s already clear important political and business leaders let us down.
We expect more.