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DeWine an early lone wolf on virus, wins wide praise

COLUMBUS (AP) — A week before Ohio recorded any coronavirus cases, Gov. Mike DeWine delivered his first warning, banning spectators from an international fitness and bodybuilding festival that brings in more than $50 million for the state’s largest city.

Organizers of the annual Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus pushed back, and critics called DeWine an alarmist, but he didn’t budge. In the following week, he was the first governor to shut down schools statewide and also moved to keep fans away from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament first-round games in Ohio, along with NBA and NHL games in the state, before the organizations all canceled or postponed their seasons.

His latest moves: ordering all bars and restaurants to stop serving dine-in customers and effectively shutting down the state’s presidential primary Tuesday by first going to the courts and then having the state’s health director  declare a health emergency.

Now the Republican’s early directives to restrict the movements of residents are being proved prophetic, and many other governors are following his lead while trying to temper the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that has infected more than 183,000 people worldwide and killed more than 7,100.

“Everybody has to make their call and what they think is the right thing to do,” DeWine said Monday. “This is a time when every governor understands the gravity of what they are doing.”

DeWine’s decision Thursday to shut down the schools kicked off a flood of statewide closings from Virginia to Oregon, with nearly 40 states now on board.

Business groups that are certain to take a financial hit are largely praising his decisions. So are the state’s Democrats, who are quick to compare DeWine’s serious and somber tone with President’s Donald Trump’s early attempts to downplay the virus as something similar to the seasonal flu.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper thanked DeWine and other governors on Twitter for “stepping in to lead in absence of traditional presidential leadership.”

At age 73, DeWine is familiar to Ohioans, though he has been little known on the national stage. He has been elected to almost every office along the way to the governor’s seat, including the U.S. Senate.

Not everyone is happy with him. Some Democrats are calling for all-absentee voting instead of a delay the primary until as late as June, and some Republicans in the Legislature pushed back, too.