Governor DeWine

The saga of Gov. DeWine’s Covid failures progresses. [

Its downward spiral accelerates with the surging Delta variant, the relatively low rate of vaccinations, and the Governor’s unwillingness to act. The daily news conferences and active role of the Department of Health ceased, and policy making stopped. The Governor surrendered to opposition, reelection concerns, and the virus itself. 

The most powerful example is DeWine’s embrace of a policy—the illogical and unscientific contradiction of promoting but not mandating vaccination and only weakly encouraging voluntary masking. It is a radically false choice and false opposition guaranteed to increase disease and death.  

Without endorsing mandates for either vaccinations or mask-wearing, DeWine presents them as opposing rather than complementary scientific and common-sense approach that circumstances demand. He repeats the slogan “there is no appetite for mask mandates,” as if he expects Ohioans to eat them. [

Implicitly and perhaps explicitly, DeWine gives wind to both anti-maskers’ and anti-vaxxers’ sails. Unlike the presumptions of genuine conservatives who respect facts and science, there is no awareness of or concern for the common good or individuals sacrificing for the many. 

From initial openness—with personable, knowledgeable Dr. Amy Acton at his side—to a decreasing flow of information and an increasing opacity, denial, and dishonesty, DeWine’s leadership faltered. Pressed by the irrational opposition of his own party in the State Legislature (imitating other Republican-dominated states, who attempt to block all public health measures), and the emergence of a Republican primary challenger, DeWine withdrew. [] He surrendered to the virus and to the right-wing.  

Throughout late winter and early spring, the Ohio Department of Health seldom acknowledged its data collection and reporting problems and the dramatic decline in testing (as vaccination sites swelled and vaccination replaced testing). Combined with Ohio’s nationally low level of genomic sequencing, and acknowledgement of missing data, incomplete data, and tardiness in recording and posting, we have little awareness of where the state stands with respect to rates of COVID, spread of variants, testing, and completeness of inoculations. 

In the wake of this near-crisis, DeWine responded with a publicity stunt called VAX-A-MILLION, a lottery that awarded $1 million and 5 full college tuition scholarships to one winner of each per week for five weeks. Endlessly promoted, even in an opinion essay in the New York Times by DeWine, its “exceptional” and “beyond expectations” benefits were repeated without qualification or evidence.[]  

In fact, VAX-A-MILLION failed. It did not prioritize the unvaccinated, and it discriminated against residents who lacked access to information and communications. And it was not accompanied by an expansion in access to vaccinations, a necessity. PSA campaigns never adapted to changing conditions like the uniquely at-risk status of the unvaccinated. Vaccinations increased in the first week, but a reliable national study by a medical researcher proved that the lottery did not have a positive impact on vaccinations. [] Other studies claimed to prove the lottery’s success are based on modeling not actual data.  

DeWine’s spokesperson Dan Tierney immediately denied the results and condemned the study. His unfounded and irrelevant denials revealed that he knew nothing about the survey or its results. [See my letter, “DeWine's Vax-a-Million was a boondoggle”] (] Despite direct refutation, DeWine’s office never issued a retraction. Denial and opacity intertwined. Now he plans to repeat it with a handful of scholarships aimed at young people. 

We live with escalating crises today: low rates of vaccination, rising case counts, increasing hospitalizations (especially among the unvaccinated and the young, climbing (though lagging) deaths, continuing refusal to mandate either masks or vaccinations, and ignorant opposition to both. Schools, universities, and businesses struggle without guidance or legal support. The tragedy unfolds around us.  


Harvey J. Graff is Professor of English and History, The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books on social history.