Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus response has become a national guide to the crisis

The Republican Governor of Ohio is setting the path for how to respond to America's new reality.

When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced a ban on spectators at the Arnold Classic, a juggernaut of a sports festival that brings tens of millions in revenue, the move seemed radical. It was March 3, and the state, after all, had not even had a single confirmed case of the novel coronavirus.

But within days, large-capacity events were being canceled nationwide.

A week later, DeWine recommended that his state’s colleges suspend in-person classes. Across the country, they soon did. He then closed Ohio’s public schools. Other states followed.

And on Sunday, DeWine ordered all restaurants and bars be shuttered. By Monday, they were turning out the lights in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, too.

As a global pandemic each day transforms the unthinkable into America’s new reality, the path is being guided by an unlikely leader: the short and bespectacled 73-year-old Republican governor of America’s seventh-most-populous state.

DeWine might have helped set the national agenda for responding to the coronavirus again Monday, announcing a lawsuit against his state to delay in-person voting in the primary that had been slated for Tuesday. Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard A. Frye rejected DeWine’s lawsuit Monday night, throwing the primary into chaos. The plaintiffs planned to immediately appeal.

“We cannot conduct this election tomorrow,” DeWine declared at his regular afternoon news conference, which has become a must-watch event for residents across the state — and for anyone in the country who wants to know where the crisis is headed next.

The announcement was typical of the no-nonsense, high-fact way in which DeWine has delivered his daily dose of bad news. He frequently cites the advice of public health professionals. He doesn’t mention politics. He shows his concern about the impact of his choices, which he has acknowledged could be devastating for the economy. He sugarcoats nothing.

“In a sense these were tough decisions, but in a sense they were not,” DeWine said in an interview. “This is life and death.”

The governor’s ahead-of-the-curve response has won raves from public health experts and from politicians of both parties...

The Ohio Restaurant Association, which represents a $24 billion industry, was initially resistant to the idea of shutting down the state’s 22,000 eating and drinking establishments. But the governor and his top officials consulted with the group as the decision was being made this weekend, and offered a compelling case for why there was no other choice. They ultimately settled on allowing businesses to stay open for deliveries and takeaway orders, while banning in-person dining.

“This was not a decision they made on a whim. It was not taken lightly,” said Mona Moheimani, who directs communications for the association. “You heard Governor DeWine say ‘I’m so sorry’ and you could really feel that.”

DeWine — who has had a four-decade career in politics that includes stints as a congressman, a senator and the state’s attorney general — said in his interview with The Washington Post that he was guided by experience: His biggest mistakes, he said, stem from not digging deeply enough into the facts and trusting experts. Those are errors he is not wiling to make when it comes to fighting the coronavirus, he said. 

“I have a basic belief that if you have the right facts you’re probably going to make the right decision,” DeWine said.

When it came to coronavirus, he said his instincts were telling him to move faster than anyone thought possible. He has been in constant contact with Amy Acton, the state health director. Acton and members of her team have consulted as many of the top public health officials in Ohio, the country and the world as they could.