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Ohio Governor Relays State's Response To COVID-19 Epidemic


Ohio is in its first full day of a statewide stay-at-home order as confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the death toll rise. That means grocery stores, pharmacies and a few other essential services do remain open, but that's about it. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has been regularly talking about the importance of flattening the curve, and he joins us now.

Welcome, Governor.

MIKE DEWINE: Good to be with you. Thank you very much.

CHANG: I saw that the head of your Department of Health, Dr. Amy Acton, has warned people repeatedly that this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of infections and deaths. You've already ordered residents to stay at home through April 6. But at this point, what additional measures are you considering as the outbreak worsens?

DEWINE: Well, we've really taken most of the things that we can do as far as the one side of this. I mean, there's two sides to what we have to do, as you know. One is, as you say, we have to flatten this curve. We've got to slow this thing down. We have to have fewer people who are getting infected every single day. We've got to cut that down. The other side is we're working on increasing our hospital capacity and our infrastructure. And that's a big task as well, so you're really going down two tracks. I mean...

CHANG: Right.

DEWINE: ...We were very, very early on, you know, when we - I think we only had one death. You know, we shut our schools. You know, we're basically shut - you know, the next thing we did is we shut our bars. We shut our restaurants. We have closed down about everything that we really in the state can close down. And really...

CHANG: Well, let's talk...

DEWINE: ...People have cooperated. People have stayed away from each other. But you know, we also have to increase the capacity, and we're working on that as well.

CHANG: Exactly. Let's talk about that second track that you mentioned - capacity, the state of hospitals right now. Ventilators, masks, other protective gear for healthcare workers - those are in short supply. What specifically is Ohio doing to make sure that those - that supply goes up? And what would you like to see the federal government do at this point to help you guys out?

DEWINE: Well, we're doing all kinds of different things. You know, we're talking to companies, to businesses to see what they can make people in Ohio. You know, we're working with our major hospitals. I had a conference call this morning with the Cleveland Clinic. They've been able to, you know, get their testing up dramatically there. They have the ability to do between now 500 and 700 tests a day, so that's very significant. Later on - in a few minutes, I'm going to be talking to the University of Cincinnati. I'm going to be talking as well to Ohio State University - their hospitals. So you know, we're working to get the testing up. We're also, you know, working in regard to protective gear. We, a few days ago, put out an order, you know, no elective surgery because we've got to preserve that gear...

CHANG: I saw that.

DEWINE: ...You know, the gowns, but we also have to have - preserve the masks. So you know, we're doing all of the things we can to conserve all of the things that we can to, you know, reach out into the private sector, into the market and procure some of these things that we need. But you know, you're right...

CHANG: Let me...

DEWINE: ...I mean, it's...

CHANG: Let me...

DEWINE: ...We're in a shortage, particularly...


DEWINE: ...Personal protection gear...

CHANG: Absolutely.

DEWINE: ...For our first responders. That's a big concern.

CHANG: Let me talk about a - potentially, I guess, a third track is what you could call it. You know, we talked to your lieutenant governor, Jon Husted, last week about the surge of unemployment in your state. Can you just bring us up to speed on what the numbers are right now to the extent that you know of people filing for unemployment in Ohio?

DEWINE: Well, we've had, you know, massive numbers. I have not looked at where we are today. But as you can expect, or you would expect when you start closing businesses...

CHANG: Sure.

DEWINE: ...People are going to apply for unemployment. And you know, frankly, this is an area where we really do need help from the federal government. I mean, we've got people who do not pay into the unemployment, you know, people who come into a different category. And for them to be able to get the unemployment, which we would want them to...

CHANG: You're talking about independent contractors, self-employed people?

DEWINE: Independent contractors, sure. And you know, sometimes these are very, very small businesses, but they are - you know, they're one, two people, sole person working many times. But they technically are an independent contractor, so, you know, we're looking...

CHANG: So you see it as a real challenge for Ohio to be able to shore up resources to absorb all the thousands and thousands of more people on unemployment right now.

DEWINE: Oh, absolutely. Look, we've got to have help from the federal government. You know, some of the things that the federal government - the Congress - has been talking about, that would be one thing that would be of great help, if they could help in that area. I mean, look, we have a constitutional prohibition against printing money, so to speak. I mean, we - you know, we can't do that. We cannot run a deficit.

CHANG: Right.

DEWINE: So we've already ordered all of my members of the cabinet, you know, to make cuts.


DEWINE: And we've froze the number of people who are being hired.

CHANG: All right.

DEWINE: And we've basically frozen spending.

CHANG: That is Ohio's governor, Mike DeWine.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

DEWINE: Good to be with you. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.