Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Return to normal life depends on all of us

Akron Beacon Journal

May 9

In one way, protesters in Ohio and around the country demanding businesses be reopened are giving voice to all of us.

Who isn’t tired of being stuck at home, a hostage of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Who isn’t anxious to return to work, worried about an ever-dwindling checking account as bills pile up?

Who wouldn’t prefer to visit a favorite restaurant instead of subsisting on another round of fast-food takeout or a box of bland macaroni and cheese?

Who wouldn’t enjoy going to see a movie or a play instead of another evening of Netflix?

Who isn’t eager to venture to a favorite bar or club and catch up with friends?

The frustration felt by the protesters is understandable and widely shared. All of us are ready to return to normal life. All of us want to go back to the way things were.

That is especially true of small-business owners, who typically do not have the deep pockets required to stay in operation for long without regular customers.

That’s why a group of Orrville citizens calling themselves “Playground Patriots” have defied public health orders and allowed their children to play in Orr Park.

It’s why an online petition — tied to the Ohio Gun Owners group and Joseph Healy, a member of the Franklin County Republican Party’s Central Committee — is calling for the GOP-controlled Ohio General Assembly to impeach Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a fellow Republican.

It’s why the Ohio House last week passed a bill, which DeWine said he would veto if it reached his desk, to limit health director Dr. Amy Acton’s power to issue stay-at-home orders.

We just want our lives — and livelihoods — back.

But the vast majority of us also know why we can’t yet return to normal life — it simply isn’t safe to do so. The novel coronavirus continues to spread in the state, the country and around the world. In the United States, COVID-19 cases aren’t going down. Outside of New York, they’re still going up. The curve has not been flattened.

And that’s with social distancing having been in place for nearly two months. Take that away, crowd people together again, and we will almost certainly experience an exponential increase in cases. Even a partial reopening, as Ohio has begun, threatens to send our numbers in the wrong direction.

That’s made all the more likely because of the almost inexplicable rejection of face masks and social distancing by many of those pushing hardest to reopen businesses.

“No one is stopping anybody from wearing a face mask. But quite frankly, everyone else’s freedom ends at the tip of my nose. You’re not going to tell me what to do, and there’s a lot of people that feel that way,” said Republican state Rep. Nino Vitale of Urbana, who presumably doesn’t feel the same way about being forced to drive on the right side of the road.

Largely because of a failed early response by the federal government to test and quarantine, the U.S. is the world’s epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with one-third of all confirmed cases and nearly one-third of the confirmed deaths. Now it will take all of us, collectively doing the right things, to get back to normal life.

Previous generations of Americans joined together and rose to conquer the challenges that confronted them.

Will we do the same?



COVID-19 pandemic worsens the housing crisis

The Columbus Dispatch

May 10

When the coronavirus contagion finally eases up and fewer people are coming down with COVID-19, some of the deepest and longest-lasting scars are likely to be left in the nation’s already troubled housing sector.

Those who have lost jobs or have seen their pay cut — which is now half of American households — may not be in immediate jeopardy of losing their homes. Eviction moratoriums in most states, although not Ohio, will keep roofs over heads during the height of the health crisis.

But every month that this pandemic drags on, more and more tenants are falling behind in their rent. That in turn squeezes the ability of landlords to meet obligations for mortgages, taxes and to pay staff to maintain property so their tenants can safely shelter in place.

It’s no wonder the drum beat is growing for Congress to include housing relief in the fourth and next coronavirus stimulus package that is expected to be hammered out in coming weeks.

In a new NPR/PBS NewHour/Marist poll released at the end of April, half of the respondents said someone in their households had lost a job or saw their hours reduced. That was a hike of 178% from the month before, when just 18% of Americans reported they had lost jobs or income due to the virus and resulting workplace shutdowns.

No question those at the lower end of the economy are in even more dire straits. The Marist poll found workforce impacts were worse in nonwhite households, with 60% reporting job and pay losses compared to 43% of white households.

A majority of less-educated, younger and poorer Americans are among those suffering the greatest economic harm, with the Marist poll revealing 55% of those without a college degree, under age 45 and making less than $50,000 reported job and pay cuts.

In other words, those least prepared to weather the storm are most likely to be battered by its after-effects.

As Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll, said, “No one has really gone untouched. However, we certainly see from the data as well that a lack of a strong safety net, especially for many middle-class or working-class Americans, it has some really, really big holes in it.”

Now layered over that data, consider a report that the Ohio Poverty Law Center also released in late April. It found that 34% of all Ohio households are in rented property, with many presumably finding it difficult to keep paying their rent in this economic freefall.

Even when the economy was booming for most of us, Franklin County was already seeing 17,000 eviction cases a year. On some days, Franklin County Municipal Court handled as many as 200 eviction cases, said Administrative Judge Ted Barrows. And studies have shown a gap of 54,000 affordable housing units needed in central Ohio alone, leaving poor families doubled or tripled up as they try to shelter in place.

Under guidance from Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor allowing courts to delay certain cases, most urban counties have temporarily suspended eviction hearings.

Still, Ohio is one of six states that have not enacted a uniform policy on evictions during the coronavirus emergency, earning it a score of just 0.58 out of a possible 5 points on a “COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard” created by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

Some Ohio lawmakers would like to change that. House Bill 562, introduced March 23 by Democratic Reps. David Leland of Columbus and Jeffrey Crossman of Parma, was referred to the Civil Justice Committee on Tuesday. It would prohibit foreclosures and evictions throughout Ohio’s state of emergency for the pandemic.

But such legislation is barely a Band-Aid, a temporary truce to keep at-risk families from becoming homeless during the worst of the pandemic. The real need is to help renters pay what they owe rather than pushing their mounting debt further into the future with little hope of climbing out of the hole into which they are sinking deeper each month.

But as Gov. DeWine has called for $774 million in cuts to state spending, there appears to be no avenue for rent relief leading from the Statehouse.

For that kind of resolution, housing advocates are putting their hope in Congress, where they are pushing to include a $100 billion rental assistance program in the next coronavirus stimulus package.

It is a tall order but not the biggest ask when compared to proposals to extend more stimulus payments to most Americans — something that President Donald Trump has indicated he would like to see — as well as $500 billion the nation’s governors are seeking to help states and local government deal with costs they are incurring due to the pandemic.

Financial relief can’t fix every problem created by the virus crisis. But for those in serious danger of becoming homeless, it can go a long way toward helping them hold their families together.

As explained by Steve Gladman, president of the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County, “Eviction moratoriums in many jurisdictions hit the pause button on displacing tenants, but the only thing that really paused was the tenants’ income. Rent deferment is not rent forgiveness, and once the moratorium is lifted, tenants will be unable to pay the large ballooning sum of money owed.”

A defining difference with this state of emergency, compared to crises created by tornados, floods and other natural disasters, is that every community is fighting to survive. There are no others who can rush to our aid the way those with generous hearts tend to do when emergencies are localized and those not impacted have resources to share.

As Congress prepares to craft what some say could be its final coronavirus stimulus plan, we urge lawmakers to help those who will lose their homes without federal assistance.



Don’t skip doctor’s visits

Toledo Blade

May 11

With the risk of the extremely contagious coronavirus, many parents have been avoiding taking their children to playgrounds, libraries, and other public places. But they’ve also been skipping visits to the pediatrician, and that has doctors worried.

Officials with the American Academy of Pediatrics say that the number of children seeing their pediatricians regularly is only about 20 or 30 percent of what it would normally be this time.

In some cases, parents are taking advantage of telemedicine to arrange virtual doctor visits for their children, but that doesn’t account for most of the steep drop in office appointments, the group said.

Skipping regular doctor visits means that children miss necessary vaccinations for other dangerous diseases, such as measles or meningitis. And doctors also worry that without regular visits they may miss signs of other illnesses or medical conditions that can be spotted during well checks.

And, doctors say, the conditions created by the pandemic — including stress and anxiety — can make it even more important for children to get a checkup from their pediatrician.

Doctors say that parents are anxious about bringing small children into offices where they might be exposed to the coronavirus. To manage the risk, physicians have been taking extra precautions, deep cleaning and disinfecting their offices and arranging for drive-through clinics to reduce contact.

The risks associated with an entire generation falling behind on its vaccinations also are concerning, pediatricians have said. Already, vaccination rates in the United States have been slipping in recent years, which many doctors attribute to anti-vaccination myths.

It is particularly important for children to receive the measles vaccinations they need as that disease is making a comeback. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded nearly 1,300 measles cases, which was the highest number of cases in 25 years. Most of the cases were among people who had not been vaccinated.

Concerns over coronavirus contagion are real, but the disease is not the only threat to children’s health. Parents should take precautions, but also make sure their children keep up with regular checkups to stay healthy.



Worse before better

Sandusky Register

May 11

If anyone ever wondered what our community would be like if there were no Cedar Point anchoring the tourism industry, now it’s sort of like that.

This past Saturday, the park missed its opening day for the first time in its 150-year history, and it moved its planned century-and-a-half birthday celebration to the 2021 season.

There’s been no final decision whether the park will open at all in 2020, but hope fades that it can with each passing day in this pandemic. And, assuming it will be open in 2021, it will be a different fun-day experience than we’ve ever known. The park is considering a reservation system, limiting park attendance and implementing other changes that nobody ever before imagined might be required.

This is the new reality.

Local governments expect a massive hit in revenues — numbers that are too big for many to even comprehend — and some already have reduced the municipal payrolls and ordered other cuts in anticipation.

Local businesses, too, struggle as they must survive under new social distancing realities. They’ll also be hit by the ripple effect when the millions of tourists, who normally make it here each summer, are no longer coming.

The combined losses will be in the hundreds of millions — a level of failure that could make the Great Depression appear mild, in comparison.

Everyone, ourselves included, is feeling the pressure — some more than others — but the pressure will be unrelenting for months longer, in the best of scenarios, and few are immune from eventually being touched by the adverse effects of this pandemic.

As the state slowly begins reopening, with retailers and salons and others unlocking their doors for the first time in two months, it is imperative that we all observe the guidelines to keep each other safe. It’s important that we keep our distances from each other, that we wear face masks and that we avoid congregating in groups.

It is also important that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, and the governors in other states, continue to work to get more testing capabilities so testing for the virus can be widely distributed, accurate data can be collected and contact tracing can be done, which all aim to slow the spread of the virus. It’s important to hold the federal government accountable to help get that done and reject any argument that is it not needed or is unnecessary.

It is important, too, that we reject false claims of conspiracies, highly partisan games of gotcha and ignorance about the pandemic.

Buckle up. This will get worse before it gets better, and stand strong against the politics of division and anti-science.



DeWine’s reopening order a gamble, but necessary

The Lorain Morning Journal

May 9

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement that more businesses can reopen should boost local economies and well as morale for some employees, but it’s a gamble that is necessary because so many people have been hurt, financially and emotionally during this deadly novel coronavirus pandemic.

DeWine’s long anticipated order will allow restaurants that were closed, salons and spas to resume business this month, but with some stipulations and best practices for the safety of workers and patrons.

This was bold, but necessary.

DeWine had to reignite the state’s economy that has suffered the last eight weeks with people out of work and businesses not able to sell their wares and goods.

At the same time, he must protect the health and safety of citizens.

DeWine is convinced that it is possible to live with COVID-19 as long as people practice social distancing, wear masks in public and wash their hands.

When the stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March, the purpose was to prevent the virus from spreading rapidly throughout the state.

Because Ohioans, for the most part, proved they could follow best practices, the state is reopening.

Retail stores will open May 12, outdoor dining along with salons, barbershops and spas can restart their in-person operations May 15 and indoor dining can begin May 21.

Lorain County cities and industry groups are cautiously optimistic about the move, but excited for local businesses that will get some much needed relief.

Ted Esborn, Avon Lake’s economic development director, was elated saying reopening is enormous news for the Avon Lake economy.

Esborn said businesses covered in the announcement now have what many have wanted most — a timeline, an answer to the question.

But, he said, they will have to figure out how they will meet distancing, cleaning and sanitizing guidelines.

Avon Economic Development Coordinator Pam Fechter concurs with Esborn saying her city is just as excited and optimistic, but cautious.

Fechter thanked those essential businesses that have remained open and look forward to the remaining businesses in Avon getting back on track and to begin thriving again.

Tony Gallo, president of the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce, expressed excitement and noted his office will continue to provide support and guidance to businesses as the state moves into this next phase.

The County Chamber is excited for local entrepreneurs to restart their businesses in a safe way.

Gallo, however, warns that availability of personal protection equipment and cleaning products will become an even bigger issue as this begins to happen.

The County Chamber produced a guide to help local businesses with information about how to keep employees and customers safe as well as signage that they may find useful.

Gallo said the County Chamber provided some links to hand sanitizer purchases that are made in Ohio to assist in sourcing necessary products.

When the County Chamber received the Lorain County COVID-19 Small Business Grants and gave out $85,000 to Lorain County businesses, a majority of them that applied and received the funds were restaurants and beauty salons.

Those businesses are in desperate need to reopen and to begin rebuilding.

DeWine’s recent orders on reopening dates come after state officials consulted with advisory boards with members from restaurants and beauty salons, submitting suggestions on best practices.

But the decision to reopen parts of the economy will take Ohio into uncharted waters.

DeWine realizes this is a road that has danger signs on it and “we need to fully understand it.”

It is a risk that likely will cause the state’s present one-to-one ratio of infected person to number of people infected to rise.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the ratio of infection was more than two-to-one; the reduction attributed to social distancing and other measures taken to curb community spread.

But changes had to be made, and now is the time to do it.

In mitigating the potential impact of reopening, DeWine said the state will continue to abide by industry best practices and hopes to continue to ramp up testing and tracing.

The state’s restaurant advisory board chaired by Treva Weaver issued a number of recommendations.

Restaurant owners were asked to put together a floor plan to enable customers to abide by social distancing guidelines, post COVID-19 symptoms at entrances and asking businesses to self-monitor staff.

The recommendations did not make distinctions between bars and restaurants with Weaver stating the board was focused on the physical space.

For salons, barbershops and spas, customers with appointments may be asked to remain in their vehicles while waiting to be seen, and establishments will remove self-serve beverages and reading material.

Professionals will wear face coverings and customers also will be asked to wear masks.

If the current protocols aren’t adhered to, we’ll enter into more uncharted and not so calm waters.