As Pandemic Continues, Acton Resigns As Health Director But Stays As Advisor
Updated: 5:15 p.m., Thursday, June 11, 2020
The director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), who drew national praise and criticism from some members of the state legislature for the state's pandemic shutdowns, has resigned.
Dr. Amy Acton, the last person appointed to Gov. Mike DeWine's cabinet last year and the first woman to head ODH, is stepping down as its director. She will stay on as an advisor on COVID-19 related issues, Acton and Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday.
"No one that I've ever met has more passion for helping people, has more passion for public health than Dr. Amy Acton. She's always put the health of Ohioans first," DeWine in announcing her resignation.
Lance Himes, currently ODH’s general counsel, will take over as interim director.
DeWine said Acton has guided the state's response to coronavirus, and she has signed several major orders that have been put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, including the March 23 stay-at-home order.
As the pandemic continued, Acton became a lightning rod for critics.
There were protests outside her Columbus-area home from people who called for businesses to be allowed to reopen. She was singled out in larger protests at the Statehouse, as well.
And critics in the state legislature attempted to restrain her authority with public health orders. The House passed a bill that would put a time limit on public health orders by requiring lawmakers to vote to extend orders after 14 days. Other lawmakers blasted her personally, including Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana), who has called her a "dictator."
At the governor’s regular coronavirus press conference Thursday, Acton thanked DeWine, Ohio’s local health departments, the press and others for their work during the pandemic.
“I really want to say most of all, though, to Ohioans: Ohioans, you have saved lives. You've done this,” she said. “It is my honor to continue to work on this alongside of you and to witness what you have done already.”
ODH reported a total of 37,120 confirmed coronavirus cases statewide on Thursday, and 2,263 confirmed related deaths.
COVID-19 testing is open to all Ohians, DeWine also announced Thursday. Testing was previously limited to only those with symptoms. Ohio also has been prioritizing the state’s limited testing capacity by reserving tests for certain populations earlier on in the crisis, including first responders and nursing home residents and workers.
“COVID-19 testing is now open to everyone in Ohio,” the governor said. “Even if you are low risk and not showing symptoms, we want those who want to be tested to be able to get tested,” he said. “By knowing who has the virus, we can better protect the vulnerable and work to stop its spread.”
Testing sites state can be located with an interactive map on the ODH website. Temporary pop-up testing locations also will be available, starting with six sites opening Friday in Columbus. In the coming weeks, DeWine said more pop-up locations will open in Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Portsmouth and Xenia.
ODH has developed a list of best practices for places of worship to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as they reopen, including leaving space between family groups, encouraging congregants to wear face coverings and eliminating touching common surfaces. The governor emphasized the precautions are not requirements, as the state has never mandated the closing of places of worship.