To: Ohio Reporters, Editors, Columnists, and Editorial Boards
From: Michael McGovern, ProgressOhio
Date: February 25, 2021
Re: The Wheels Are Coming Off DeWine’s COVID-19 Response
Despite widespread praise for his early handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Mike DeWine’s response has become increasingly ineffective as Ohioans continue to struggle. Scandalous new developments in recent weeks have put a fine point on this failure. From a broken unemployment system, to an ineffective vaccine rollout, to massive data mismanagement, it is clear that the DeWine Administration is not up to the task of guiding our state through this crisis.
As you continue to cover Gov. DeWine, we hope that your reporting and writing will take into account the context laid out below. A clear pattern has emerged: the DeWine Administration’s response to each new COVID-19 challenge is too little, too late.
Despite having months to prepare, it is obvious that the DeWine administration had no unified plan for providing life-saving vaccines for Ohioans. While the governor has blamed a lack of supply, that is clearly not the only issue. Ohio continues to lag every one of our neighboring states in vaccination rates. Tellingly, Ohio has struggled to distribute vaccines, ranking at times among the worst in the country, illustrating that this was not simply a supply issue.
Reporting has made clear that our lackluster numbers are due to Ohio’s disorganized, decentralized rollout. As has often been Gov. DeWine’s approach, he has simply passed the buck to local leaders, who have been left to fend for themselves. As state Rep. Allison Russo, a public health expert, has said, “To me the failure is we’ve known about these vaccines. We should have been planning in October. From my conversations with people who are on the ground, there really was not planning and coordination before we got the vaccine.”
We have seen story after story laying out the frustrations of everyday Ohioans trying to navigate the system. As cleveland.com noted, it takes, “‘luck, persistence and privilege” to get a vaccine in Ohio. Rather than clearly communicate, Gov. DeWine has left Ohioans in limbo. Unlike other states, we have been given almost no indication of future priority groups, so Ohioans under age 60, in front line jobs, and with serious but not the most critical underlying health conditions still do not know when their turn in line will be.
Despite these well-documented problems, there is no end in sight. For months, the DeWine administration knew vaccines were coming, but failed to build a centralized system for Ohioans to sign up. As of mid-February – fully two months after the first vaccines arrived in Ohio – Gov. DeWine admitted that they were still working on a centralized website. Two weeks later, details about the new system continue to trickle out, but we still do not have a firm timeline of when the website will be live. Other states, however, already have such websites up and running. Why has it taken Ohio so long?
Broken Unemployment System
The DeWine administration has effectively ignored Ohio’s broken unemployment system for nearly a year. Almost immediately after the pandemic’s economic impacts began to be felt in Ohio, we began to see story after story about how hard it has been for Ohioans to get the unemployment benefits they were owed. Yet for months, no action was taken.
To make matters worse, Ohio’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, funded by federal CARES dollars, was completely overtaken by fraud. Despite being unable to adequately deliver benefits to those legitimately in need, the state managed to pay out more than $330 million in fraudulent claims. The Department of Jobs and Family Services claims to have put in place new measures to stop such fraud, but won’t discuss them.
Despite all this, Gov. DeWine’s response has been wholly inadequate. On February 2, 2021, he said, “No one’s going to work a miracle. This was an avalanche that hit, along with the pandemic, so many Ohioans. And the system was simply not built for this.” But by that point, we had known the system was broken for nearly a year. In typical politician fashion, he announced a special commission to look into the unemployment system, not real action to help struggling families. Once again, what took them so long to deal with this problem? When will struggling Ohioans see real action from the governor?
Unbelievable Data Mismanagement
Perhaps most stunning of all was that the DeWine Administration somehow “lost” more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths – roughly a third of all deaths in the state. The lost data aligns almost perfectly with the tenure of new Department of Health Director Stephanie McCloud – a political appointee with no medical background who was appointed to placate right-wing critics of the governor.
Rather than take real real responsibility, McCloud and DeWine waited to announce this unbelievable news until 6pm on a Thursday, when few were paying attention. They subsequently blamed low level staff and did their best to minimize this incident.
What is especially alarming is that this data mismanagement calls into question Gov. DeWine’s ongoing, opaque approach to COVID-19 restrictions that rely on ODH data. How can we trust Gov. DeWine when we can’t trust his administration to honestly share data?
Inadequate Budget Response
In addition to failing to properly deal with the vaccine rollout, our unemployment system, or Ohio’s COVID-19 data, it also now appears that Gov. DeWine will not adequately fund our state’s economic recovery.
Ohio’s economy has been decimated by the pandemic, but Gov. DeWine’s proposed budget fails to meet the crisis our state faces. In a recent survey of Ohio economists, 87% believed that the $1 billion in DeWine’s budget for COVID-19 recovery efforts was wholly insufficient. Rather than provide Ohio with the resources needed to fully recover from this pandemic, Gov. DeWine is once again selling Ohioans short.
The bottom line is, the wheels are coming off Gov. Mike DeWine’s COVID-19 response. The confusing vaccine rollout fiasco, the broken unemployment system, and losing track of thousands of deaths are part of the same pattern: the DeWine Administration’s failure to help Ohioans navigate the COVID-19 crisis. We need consistent, honest communication and bold leadership from the state. We aren’t getting it from Gov. DeWine.