Harvey Graff

No longer a leader, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s failures are clear. (For background see my Dispatch guest opinion piece Opinion: DeWine’s blundered coronavirus response. Vax-A-Million didn't help and Governor Mike DeWine’s continuing Covid failures: The .Ohio tragedy. Despite national attention for early actions and his $5 million vaccination lottery, DeWine is committed to public relations not policy. 

DeWine began spring 2020 strongly. His daily press conferences were memorable because of state Department of Health director Dr. Amy Acton’s knowledge and articulateness. Acton ran the show with her popular appearances and mandates to limit the “first wave” from March into June. Science ruled as Ohio was briefly a national leader in partial lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings, and mask mandates. Despite right-wing condemnation, these measures were largely successful. 

In the face of public health efforts, opposition grew from the Ohio Statehouse, which refused to recognize masking mandates, to threatening groups at the Capitol and Acton’s home. The protests at her home were personal, anti-Semitic and sexist, leading to her resignation in mid-June. 

DeWine retreated in the face of the virus. In actions and inactions, he abandoned science and refused to articulate responsible policies. This new path was paved in the months the Health Department’s leadership was vacant. Finally, in August, DeWine offered the position to Dr. Joan Duwve from South Carolina. After initially accepting, she withdrew upon learning why Acton resigned. See Ohio ’health director’ hired, quit without exchanging a word in writing with state

DeWine did not appoint a replacement for another month. He selected an administrator from another department, not a medical authority. Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, formerly a senior administrator at OhioHealth without public health background, became chief medical advisor. He became director in August 2021.  

Vanderhoff is neither knowledgeable nor articulate. As the Delta variant spread, he stated in March, “I’m not overly worried.” I was stunned at his ignorance. With the August-September surge, he admits to worries but continues to both support “vax over masks” and resist vaccination mandates.  

Ohio did little genetic sequencing, insufficient testing, and scandalously poor data gathering and reporting. Flawed reporting of nursing home cases and deaths was admitted, but problems in maintaining and updating information are unacknowledged. Ohio residents must consult national databases to find comparative statistics. Statewide coordination is inadequate. 

Testing has never been sufficient, and less so over time. This was a major contradiction when Ohio had an unexplained rate of 50 cases per 100,000 population for changing policies. DeWine rescinded that order as part of his spring shift to an anti-science dependence on vaccinations alone. See Ohio government coronavirus page. The DeWine-Vanderhoff partnership contributed to Ohio’s above-average rate of cases and deaths per capita and below-average rate of vaccinations. (See CDC, New York TimesWashington Post, and Johns Hopkins University databases.) 

Limited state policies exacerbate political and cultural divides. Proponents of unconstitutional notions of “freedom” (to die), “limited government” (except when seeking to ban actions by others), and “medical freedom” (to infect and kill others, and oneself) oppose all government (and/or private) action. A rumor of restrictions sparks protests, threats by right-wing legislators to overrule the governor, and enacting likely unconstitutional bans. State representatives propagate wild conspiracy theories. See GOP-invited Ohio doctor Sherri Tenpenny falsely tells Ohio lawmakers COVID-19 shots 'magnetize' people, create 5G 'interfaces'.

DeWine makes vague statements about a limited public interest but refuses policies that might provoke legislative backlash. He won’t publicly condemn legislators. Thus, the legislature passed a bill that permits overriding the governor’s mandates and blocking his veto of bills. See Ohio lawmakers override DeWine veto, pass limits on governor’s coronavirus powers.

Sloganeering emerged as the capstone of DeWine’s non-policies. This is seen best in the simultaneous campaign of the VAX-A-MILLION state lottery and vaccination as the sole policy. See Don’t Roll Your Eyes at Ohio’s Vaccine Lottery. Vaccination and case rates testify to the failure of a fatal approach. 

Only the DeWine administration claimed success for VAX-A-MILLION. Vaccination rates increased for one week. A data-based medical research analysis from Boston University School of Medicine confirms this. Efforts to deny that research by comparison with hypothetical modeling with no actual data fail. Now he offers a handful of scholarships to young people. See these articles:

Opinion: DeWine’s blundered coronavirus response. Vax-A-Million

Opinion: Vax-A-Million no silver bullet. DeWine needs to lean on the experts

Lottery-based incentives do not increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, study finds

Letters: Vax-a-Million, Hobby Lobby

Lottery-Based Incentive in Ohio and COVID-19 Vaccination Rates

Did Ohio's Vax-a-Million boost COVID-19 vaccinations? Several economists say yes

In the place of a comprehensive approach or mandate, DeWine depends on soft cheerleading, rhetorical appeals to “individual responsibility,” and desire for others to require vaccinations. He shifted from not endorsing mandates to opposing them. The false choice of one rather than a combination of reinforcing policies allows the consequences to increase daily.  

Yet DeWine responds to President Biden’s September 8 vaccination mandates: “I think the president made a mistake. . . . we’re going . . . to now be talking about a federal mandate . . ., instead of talking about, ‘Look, here’s the science.’” 

What “science” is that, Governor DeWine? 

See 'The president made a mistake': Gov. Mike DeWine comes down against Biden vaccine order


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books on social history. This is the third installment of his critical review of Ohio’s Covid responses.