Editorial: Acton’s actions saved countless lives

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 13, 2020

On Thursday, Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the state’s Department of Health, stunned many when she announced she was resigning her position.
Like most in Ohio, we were disheartened to hear the news and, in order to understand the enormity of the loss for the state, one has to look at how the current health crisis began.

On March 3, Gov. Mike DeWine made the move to cancel the Arnold Classic, the multi-sporting event which draws 20,000 people from over 80 countries to Columbus and brings in an estimated $53 million in tourist dollars to Ohio.

The reason was the growing threat of the coronavirus. The governor’s decision was heavily criticized at the time, with some calling it alarmist and radical.
But, less than a week later, the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the state and the World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic.

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The crisis really hit home for most in the country the second week of March when, in the course of 24 hours, the NCAA canceled March Madness, President Donald Trump addressed the nation on the pandemic and Mr. America himself, actor Tom Hanks, announced that he had tested positive for the virus.

At this point, it was undeniable that the world was facing a public health threat it had not seen in more than a century and DeWine’s early moves seemed quite prescient.

How did the governor realize the gravity of the situation? It was no doubt because he was being advised by an exemplary public health director in Acton.

The DeWine administration quickly led the way in flattening the curve, shutting down colleges, K-12 schools, public dining, non-essential businesses and imposing limits on mass gatherings. Many of these moves, such as school closures, took place in Ohio before any state in the nation had considered them.

As a result, the dire predictions of infections did not come to pass and total cases were kept down in following months.

Through their daily news conferences, DeWine and Acton kept Ohioans informed of the situation in the state, thoroughly explaining the nature of the virus and inspiring the state’s residents to work together to combat the crisis, whether through precautions such as wearing face masks or efforts to gather needed equipment to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.

As the numbers show, their efforts were a success and the state did not end up in the grim situation we saw unfold in Italy weeks earlier.

And, not only did Ohio receive acclaim for its efforts from health experts nationwide, but the state’s residents were quite appreciative. Polls showed DeWine’s approval skyrocketing and he was commended by Democrats in the opposition party as well.

However, there were fringe groups who went on the attack, hosting lockdown protests.

In Acton’s case, the criticism became quite personal, leading many in media to speculate it may have played a hand in her resignation.

In May, groups of protesters ventured into the suburbs of Columbus, protesting on the street near Acton’s home in a residential neighborhood. Several reports said demonstrators carried firearms, viewed as a message of pure intimidation.

Sadly, things weren’t better with some legislators of the extremist variety.

In the House, Rep. Nino Vitale, R-85, an odious twerp and proponent of debunked anti-vaccine conspiracy theories who somehow managed to get elected to a seat in government, invoked an anti-Semitic smear against Acton, who is Jewish, calling her “an unelected globalist.”

While, in the Senate, Andrew Brenner, R-19, showed a similar lack of decency when he and his wife compared Acton’s health orders to Hitler and concentration camps.

Republicans in the state made Acton the subject of their rhetoric and criticism, moving to limit the powers of her office.

Acton did not cite these attacks in her decision to step down, but it was unconscionable that someone would be subjected to them for simply doing their job and trying to protect the public.

Acton and DeWine’s decisions were based on sound reasoning, and common sense made that apparent. Simple safeguards, such as wearing masks, should never have been made into a political football and the subject of the usual “liberal vs. conservative” fighting.

Acton will continue to serve as an advisor to DeWine and we hope that he will continue to trust her input, which has served Ohio well in this crisis.

She is the epitome of a public servant and what we need more of in government. Her resignation is a major loss to the state and the governor will have a difficult task finding someone comparable to fill the job.

We thank Acton immensely for all she has done these past few months. Her early decisions earned her acclaim from across the country and made Ohio serve as an example for other states to follow. As a result, she saved not just countless lives in Ohio, but nationwide as well.