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Ohio's Governor On Coronavirus In Prisons, Unemployment And "DeWine & Amy"

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), at his daily coronavirus briefing in Columbus on April 7, 2020. [Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), standing before the American flag and the flag of Ohio at a coronavirus briefing in Columbus on April 7, 2020.

The coronavirus death toll in Ohio as of Wednesday morning stands at 167, up from 142 a day earlier – an 18 percent increase. But the number of confirmed cases rose just 7 percent, to 4,782, for the smallest percentage increase since the second day of the outbreak on March 10. Are we flattening the curve and nearing the peak of this pandemic? ideastream's "Morning Edition" host Amy Eddings spoke with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. 

I know you never want to look at just one day, but this is somewhat of a pattern. Last month, the day-to-day increases were often above 20 percent. Over the last week, increases have been averaging around 13 percent, kind of stable. What do you think?

I think Ohioans are doing a good job, by and large. We have a few outliers that made the headlines. But Ohioans are doing what they need to do, which is staying home, staying apart and being careful and that is having an impact. The projections that you saw, the modeling that was done was all based upon not having as much social distancing as we've had. Ohioans are writing this story every day and they’re changing the outcome.

The end of the story is not yet known, but if we continue to do what we're doing, we're going to slow this down, flatten the curve, as they say.

Governor, you mentioned outliers. Are you seeing any fatigue, especially for businesses that have to choose between following your order or going under and filing for bankruptcy? Are you seeing noncompliance rise?

No. We're not. I talk to our mayors every morning at 11:30 in our major cities, Frank Jackson and others. We're not really seeing a big change. In fact, we saw a lot of retail companies that complied with our order, our new order that went into effect [on April 6]. We kinda tweaked the old order. And in the new order, what we require is that companies, big box stores, our grocery stores, make a determination: How many people can be in here safely? And then just post a number and abide by the number. And we're seeing companies now do that. While there may be some bad situations, by and large, the situations are good and it's a much more safer environment for people when they go to shop and a safer environment for those who work there. 

You're now seeking to get prisoners out of harm's way. In Cuyahoga County, judges, prosecutors and jail officials started speeding up hearings to reduce the county jail population about three weeks ago. Why didn't you seek these early releases from state prisons earlier?  

You know, we've been looking at really how to do this. And there's a real misconception. Most people in prison, really, you just don't want back into society very quickly. We went through, I'll give you an example. We wanted to go through everybody who's age 60 and over who had an underlying medical problem. But we didn't want to turn loose sex offenders, we didn't want to turn loose murders, we didn't want to turn loose violent individuals. So we went through that list and got it down, unfortunately, only to about 25 people. That's what we announced yesterday. We also announced the proposed release of people who have 120 days or less on their sentence.  

So was this just a question of combing through the records and finding people who fit that criteria?

You gotta go through those and you gotta try to figure out, you know... you just can't make a sweeping order. You might think you could do that, but once you start digging down and see who these individuals are, frankly, I'm not going to be responsible and have no thought of releasing a sex offender or someone who is violent back into society, even if it's only for an extra 120 days. I'm just not going to do it. So, we're going to continue to look at this, the number of people in prison. We’re going to continue to look at the number of possible candidates that could be released. It's a process that we're going through.

The stimulus package passed by the U.S. Congress includes pandemic unemployment assistance for those who don't normally qualify for unemployment. Do you have any guidance yet on when that money is going to be ready, how it's going to be implemented? 

One of the things we’re waiting for is for people who are self-employed, who do not normally qualify for unemployment insurance. We're waiting for other guidance from the federal government. A lot of this money has come through, but we don't have yet have the guidance for it.

Our regular unemployment has really had a huge number of people, as you can imagine. There’s a huge number of people who are out of work. They continue to apply… there's been some glitches in the program simply because so many people, you know, crashes the system. We've put a lot more people in there who are answering the phones and we hope that people are getting results and able to be signed up. What we tell people is, even if it takes you several days to get signed up, it will be back dated to the first date you're eligible. 

I want to end, as you do in your briefings, on an “up note.” You're become a cultural phenomenon. Your briefings on Twitter have the hashtag #WineWithDeWine. And now on YouTube, there’s an animated adaptation of the "Laverne & Shirley" TV sitcom opening, called " DeWine & Amy." Have you seen it?

I've seen it. I think it's pretty funny! I just thought, who in the world spent time to do that, you know?! But they’re pretty talented. It's interesting, what we see. They've got glasses with 'Wine With DeWine." They've got T-shirts. I don't know, people are pretty bored at 2 o’clock if they're watching our news conference every day.

What do you make of it? I find it heartwarming in a way.

In all seriousness, it's not the most riveting TV. But I think people do want information. And the one thing we try to do at 2 o’clock every day is provide them with information they might not have. And we try to tell them what we're seeing and where we think things are. And that may change, the modeling may change, but we try to tell them what the most up-to-date modeling is and just give them the information we have. If we're going to be credible as we go through this, and we've asked people to do a lot of very, very tough things, we owe them a constant flow of information.

Expertise: Hosting live radio, writing and producing newscasts, Downtown Cleveland, reporting on abortion, fibersheds, New York City subway system, coffee