COLUMBUS – Ohio’s GOP-controlled Legislature wants to curb Gov. Mike DeWine’s ability to quarantine and isolate Ohioans during a pandemic – a move the Republican governor called “dangerous.”
During the debate over Senate Bill 311, lawmakers posed questions and posited theories about how the novel coronavirus has hurt residents’ lives, livelihoods and liberties.
The Enquirer breaks down some of those questions – in case you had the same ones.
Has COVID hurt the economy?
Rep. J. Todd Smith, R-Farmersville: “COVID’s had no effect on our economy. Our response as leaders in this state is what’s had an effect on our economy. If the people are scared to go to restaurants, I put a lot of blame on the fearmongering that was produced by experts who overpredicted what this was going to do early on.”
Fact check: When DeWine’s health department ordered closures of school buildings, businesses and in-person dining at restaurants to slow the spread of COVID-19, the state’s unemployment rate soared to 17.6%.
Nationwide, one-in-four adults have had trouble paying bills since the outbreak started, one-third have dipped into savings or retirement accounts to make ends meet and one-in-six have borrowed money from friends or family, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
To state the obvious, DeWine would not have shut down businesses, crippling the state’s economy, if Ohio wasn’t facing a pandemic. Across the nation, 43 states issued some form of stay-at-home order in the spring. Only South Dakota didn’t close any businesses or schools.
States that did not issue stay-at-home orders lost jobs between February and October, but typically not at the rate Ohio did, according to a University of New Hampshire review. For example, South Dakota lost 3.6% of its jobs compared to Ohio losing 6.7%. (North Dakota actually lost a slightly higher percentage of jobs than Ohio.)
Did those closures prevent deaths? Of the seven states that didn’t issue orders, four had a higher rate of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents than Ohio. Nebraska had a similar rate and two states, Utah and Wyoming, had a lower rate of deaths. However, Wyoming currently has the highest positivity rate in the nation.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, has taken the most hands-off approach to COVID-19 of any governor. That state’s rate of COVID-19 deaths is nearly double Ohio’s. Forbes ranks South Dakota among the 10 riskiest states to visit right now.
Did Sweden take the right approach?
Smith: “Sweden, they never shut down. They were proud. They’d had lower numbers than everybody else. Now, Sweden’s numbers are just as high as every one of their neighbors,” Smith said. “If all the neighboring countries around Sweden shut down and Sweden didn’t, but now Sweden’s numbers are just like theirs, what was the freaking reason for the shutdown?”
Fact check: At the beginning of the pandemic, Sweden imposed some restrictions on its citizens – shutting down in-person learning in high schools and universities, limiting gatherings to 50 people and restricting access to nursing homes. But the country did not implement the widespread shutdowns that other European counties imposed.
Did it work? In July, Swedish doctors warned in USA Today that the country’s approach was flawed: “At the moment, we have set an example for the rest of the world on how not to deal with a deadly infectious disease.”
At that point, Sweden had a death toll nearly five times greater than that of the other four Nordic countries combined, the doctors wrote.
President Donald Trump, in April, tweeted that: “Despite reports to the contrary, Sweden is paying heavily for its decision not to lockdown.”
Even with this approach, the Swedish economy still took a hit between April and June, according to the BBC, but it was not as severe as other European counties.
Now, Sweden has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents on the continent, far higher than neighboring countries.
Do masks stop a tiny virus?
Rep. Tim Ginter, R-Salem: “The virus is so small. It’s so microscopic that it could almost be likened to a smoke vapor that these masks are not going to stop,” he said. “One epidemiologist said it’s like trying to stop mosquitos with a chain-link fence.”
Virus particles are quite small, 60 to 140 nanometers, but don’t fly into the air on their own. They are shed in respiratory droplets, which are blocked by most masks.
“In a nutshell, it’s not the size of the virus. It’s the size of the droplets,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Ohio’s new chief medical officer. “Those droplets are in fact blocked by these relatively simple masks.”
Should we wait for herd immunity?
Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington: “Trust me, there are times when I have just thought, ‘let’s just get infected in my house and get it over with,’ but can you talk about where that fails and what the problem is, specifically with this virus?”
Fact check: Herd immunity or community immunity is a term used to describe when enough of a population is immune to an infectious disease, either through vaccination and/or prior illness, to make its spread unlikely, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Herd immunity is very, very important, but we don’t actually know that it is even possible to achieve herd immunity by simple, natural exposure to this virus,” Vanderhoff responded to Russo’s question.
To achieve herd immunity in the United States without a vaccine, one estimate suggested 213 million Americans would need to be infected, leaving 1.39 million dead. To date, about 258,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
“A lot of people suffer and die along the path of trying to achieve herd immunity by just exposure of a population to a virus,” Vanderhoff said.
Those infections and deaths would disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic Americans, he added, consistent with current trends.