COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio will be able to hire a health director despite concerns about criticism a candidate might face, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday, addressing last week’s turn of events during which his new director withdrew her name just five hours after it was announced.
DeWine said he respected the decision by former South Carolina Health Director Dr. Joan Duwve to reject the job on Sept. 10. She cited unspecified personal reasons, then issued a statement the next day saying she learned the previous health director’s family had been harassed by the public.
“Sometimes you don’t fully grasp things — this happens to me — until you kind of get into something and you see it more,” DeWine said.
Dr. Amy Acton abruptly resigned as health director in June following a torrent of conservative criticism over her public health orders to slow the spread of the pandemic. That included armed protesters outside her suburban Columbus house and protests outside the Ohio Statehouse with signs bearing anti-Semitic messages. Acton is Jewish.
“While I have dedicated my life to improving public health, my first commitment is to my family. I am a public figure. My family is off limits,” Duwve said in her statement last week. “I withdrew my name from consideration to protect my family from similar treatment.”
DeWine said Tuesday that Duwve had been told of the protests Acton faced during the interview process.
The Republican governor said he doesn’t believe criticism about his administration’s handling of the coronavirus, which has also included multiple efforts by fellow House and Senate Republicans to curtail his public health order powers, will dissuade someone from taking the job.
“We’re Midwesterners, we’re Ohioans, we’re tough, we’re strong, we’re resilient,” DeWine said. “And with that go people who have strong opinions.”
The Republican governor said that in the meantime, he receives daily help from top medical officials around the state. He said Tuesday that the state’s approach to the pandemic, which includes mandatory social distancing and mask orders, will continue until a vaccine is found and it’s widely adhered to.
Nationally, dozens of state and local public health leaders have resigned or have been fired amid the coronavirus outbreak due to criticism, threats of violence and burnout.
Ohio reported 1,001 new cases Tuesday, below the 21-day average of about 1,100. The state has reported almost 140,000 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, along with 4,506 deaths.
Also this week, a private Ohio high school warned students who recently attended a large house party that they have two choices: acknowledge they were there and quarantine for two weeks, or risk expulsion.
The president of Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls said the party involving at least 100 students jeopardized the whole school community’s health and safety because of the risks of spreading the coronavirus. Photos and videos showed students not wearing masks and not social distancing, President Karl Ertle said.
Adults were there, and the parents had contacted the school in advance to understand existing restrictions for student gatherings, but the event apparently got out of hand, Ertle said.
The start of a new school year has heightened concerns about risks of the virus spreading among students of all ages.
College campuses around Ohio have reported more than 5,000 positive cases over the past several weeks. The vast majority of those involve students.
Ohio State University has had more than 2,200 cases. Miami University and the University of Dayton reported more than 1,200 cases each. Another 600-plus cases have been reported by other campuses around the state, spread across more than a dozen public and private schools.
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.