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Unmasked Protestors At DeWine's Home Were Being Unsafe

Protestors gather with flags and light-sticks on the road outside of Gov. DeWine's home
Jason Saul
Protestors gather with flags and light-sticks on the road outside of Gov. DeWine's home

Ohio has now surpassed450,000 total cases of COVID-19. The rapid increase in infection rates is alarming public health experts and it prompted Governor Mike DeWine to institute a curfew in the state. When the curfew went into effect a little over two weeks ago, more than 100 protesters gathered in the street outside the governor’s house to protest. I was there.

On the street that night were protestors blocking the road, as cars slowly passed through the people pressed together. Boomboxes were blaring. A few people were leading chants from bullhorns like: "Science says...no more masks;" Open...Ohio;" and "O.H.I.O DeWine's got to go."

It was interesting looking at the license plates and seeing all the different counties people came from. We talked to people that came in from Cincinnati. I talked to a woman who came from Willard, Ohio, which is about three hours away.

There are very few masks here, if any at all. There are Trump flags.

When 10 p.m. hit and the curfew started, nothing really changed on the street.. A firework went off. There was cheers and more car horn honking. The state troopers were just standing there.

It's a tricky situation for the police to intervene because the protestors were demonstrating their First Amendment right by protesting.

Dr. Marietta Orlowski is the chair of the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine. She’s also on the board of health for Dayton and Montgomery County.

"It doesn't matter," that the protests were protected speech, she said. "Social gatherings, regardless of their purpose, accelerate community spread." Dr. Orlowski said. "When we gather in groups and we're in close distance, and if we're not wearing masks, it gives the virus an opportunity to spread.”

Despite the misinformation that was spread at the protests, Orlowski said masks do work.

"We do know that masks work," she said. "It’s an airborne virus and so wearing a mask protects us from being exposed to that virus but then also from putting that virus out into the air with people around us.”

Also, big gatherings, like the protest outside DeWine’s house, pose another risk, Orlowski said.

“When people are coming from different parts of our community or our state, there's an added risk because people may be exposed, and then they go back into their respective communities." Orlowski said "That could create new opportunities for spread.”

DeWine has said he's concerned about the current spread of the virus, and when he announced his curfew, he said police were going to use it to send people home. But when it came to enforcing it outside his home, DeWine told me at a press conference that’s not his call.

“I’m not passing the buck in any way but that’s not what I do. So the security that we have is left in the patrol’s hands and in the hands of local law enforcement." DeWine said, "So those are not my decisions. None of it.”

The State Patrol declined requests for comment as to the enforcement of the curfew. The governor and Greene County Public Health said people are entitled to their 1st Amendment right to protest. More than 3 percent of Ohioans have now contracted COVID19. As of Thursday, 6,794 people in Ohio have died.

Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Copyright 2021 WYSO. To see more, visit WYSO.

A state trooper stands in the dark in Gov. DeWine's yard
Jason Saul / WYSO
A state trooper stands in the dark in Gov. DeWine's yard

Chris Welter is an Environmental Reporter at WYSO through Report for America. In 2017, he completed the radio training program at WYSO's Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. Prior to joining the team at WYSO, he did boots-on-the-ground conservation work and policy research on land-use issues in southwest Ohio as a Miller Fellow with the Tecumseh Land Trust.