Coronavirus: You asked, we tracked down answers

It isn’t exactly gripping television to watch Gov. Mike DeWine flip through his pad of handwritten notes to dispense information on the pandemic, listen to Lt. Gov. Jon Husted apologize for problems with the unemployment-comp system, or understand a public health lecture from Dr. Amy Acton.

But Ohioans are tuning in. Big time.

The 2 p.m. daily briefing from the governor, lieutenant governor and health commissioner is getting millions of views off Facebook feeds, the Ohio Channel, broadcast television and public radio stations. The daily "Wine with DeWine," also known as "Snackin' with Acton," has inspired T-shirts, memes, coloring books, a cartoon parody and prompted little girls across Ohio to dress up and play Dr. Amy.

“In a crisis, people crave information and routine. This is like the radio reporters who became famous broadcasting the daily news of World War II. There was nothing the audience could really do about the frightening events of the world, but there was a comfort simply in knowing there was a place to go each day to hear what was going on. It was something people could rely on — and with something to rely on there was hope to do it all again tomorrow,” said David Niven, a political scientist at University of Cincinnati.

Ohioans also are getting to know the Statehouse press corps — the reporters asking questions and seeking answers.

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In 19 years in our Columbus bureau, I have never had so many Ohioans asking me questions or pitching me questions to pose to state leaders. People are desperate for clarity on unemployment issues, health issues, pandemic data, and more.

Here is a sample of the questions received, as well as some answers we tracked down:

Q. Why aren’t grocery store employees required to wear masks to help protect themselves and customers?

A. The DeWine administration strongly recommends wearing masks in public but has stopped short of ordering it. The governor plans to unveil a re-opening plan this week that may address this.

Q. Robert Oppenheimer asked how he could get his driver’s license renewed so he can get on a plane for an upcoming vacation.

A. Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles says the federal TSA will accept an expired license as a valid ID for boarding a flight.

Q. Multiple Ohioans with health issues are concerned returning to work will put them at risk, yet they need the paychecks.

A. DeWine said he doesn't have a good answer but hopes employers will be flexible with assignments for people with health conditions that put them in the high risk categories.

Q. Maryanne Smith wants to know why abortion clinics are still open, even though a public health order halted elective procedures as a means of preserving personal protective equipment.

A. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and the Ohio Department of Health are investigating.

Q. Chad Baus noted that on March 12, Amy Acton estimated 1% of Ohioans were already infected. Was that estimate wrong or is the mortality rate way off?

A. Ohio has faced a severe shortage of testing supplies, so state officials do not have a clear, comprehensive picture of infection and mortality rates. ODH is awaiting supplies to conduct a random sample study to determine how many Ohioans have been infected by the virus.

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Q. Wanda Wilson and others asked how employers would manage folks returning to work who may be asymptomatic and could expose co-workers?

A. The DeWine administration is working on a re-opening plan that likely will include requirements for social distancing, disinfecting, health screenings and masking in places of employment. No single step is foolproof, but taken together the risks may be lowered.

Q. What is the status of checking for antibodies among Ohioans who have recovered from COVID-19?

A. Ohio Department of Health says Ohio continues to work with medical partners to establish sites to start testing for antibodies but the state lab currently cannot test for antibodies.

Q. Multiple people want to know when gig workers, self-employed people and others who file 1099 tax forms will be able to file for unemployment benefits online?

A. On April 15, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the system to allow for that will be live by the end of this week.

Q. Multiple people report that they can’t even get put on hold by the unemployment compensation system because it is so overloaded. What is being done about that?

A. Husted said the unemployment-comp call center expanded from 42 people to more than 1,000 and even more capacity is being added.

Q. Why isn’t there a restriction on the purchase of non-essential items at essential stores, such as greeting cards.

A. The DeWine administration established a dispute resolution panel to determine which businesses are essential under the state's stay-at-home order. It has not delved into which items for purchase are considered essential. The DeWine administration also ordered retail stores to determine maximum building capacity to allow for social distancing of shoppers.

Q. Debbie Hardix asked how employers can be sure that workers are properly washing their masks between shifts.

A. That's up to each employer and employee to work out. Health experts recommend that fabric masks be washed and thoroughly dried each day before re-use.

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Q. Multiple people want to know when barber shops and nail salons will be re-opened and how they will be able to safely interact with clients?

A. DeWine said he is discussing the matter with the state licensing board.

Q. Danielle Easton asks: Will the Ohio bar exam be offered this summer?

A. The Ohio Supreme Court says no determination has been made yet.

Q. Does the governor have a Tik Tok account?

A. No.

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