COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio governor’s positive, then negative, tests for COVID-19 have provided fuel for skeptics of government pandemic mandates and critics of his often-aggressive policies.
“I’m sure the internet is lighting up with ‘Well, you can’t believe any test,’ ” Mike DeWine said in a WCOL radio interview Friday, after a whirlwind of events the day before when the initial positive showing forced the Republican to scrub a planned meeting with President Donald Trump. And on Sunday, he told CNN’s “State of the Union” that “people should not take away from my experience that testing is not reliable or doesn’t work.”
Instead of seeing Trump at the Cleveland airport, DeWine returned to this state capital for new testing with his wife, Fran, through Ohio State University’s medical center They then went to their southwestern Ohio farm in Cedarville, where DeWine said he planned to quarantine for 14 days. But within hours, he had received Columbus test results that were negative. The first test, part of protocol for people meeting with the president, was a rapid-result antigen test, while the Columbus testing was a genetic, laboratory test whose results are considered more reliable.
The governor’s office said Saturday another test for each by Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center again returned negative results for DeWine and his wife.
The conflicting results come as Americans have grown frustrated about access to testing and by slow results. Ohioans also remain divided over DeWine’s actions to deal with the pandemic, with some saying his early shutdown actions unnecessarily damaged businesses. He was an early advocate of wearing masks to stop the COVID-19 spread even as other Republicans in Ohio remain unconvinced.
State Rep. Nino Vitale, a conservative GOP gadfly from Urbana, tweeted a photo of DeWine wearing a mask minutes after the positive test was announced Thursday.
“I think the question must be asked. Has he not been wearing his mask, or do masks not stop the spread?” Vitale said in his post, which also stated he wished the governor no ill will.
DeWine said he received some “not so nice” texts during the day Thursday about wearing masks. He reasserted Friday that while they might not be 100% effective, they do help prevent spread and have been made a noticeable difference in the state’s most-populated cities.
Critics were blasting him on his official Twitter account, too.
DeWine, 73, a former U.S. senator and House member who is in his first term as governor, at first appeared to have been only the second U.S. governor to positive for the coronavirus.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced he contracted the virus last month. Stitt, a Republican who has been disdainful of mask mandates, said he contracted COVID -19 by hugging friends.
Longtime Cincinnati-area conservative activist Mike Wilson, who has been analyzing and writing about coronavirus data since he contracted COVID-19 this summer, saw a storm of strong reactions on his Facebook page including from some who said DeWine’s results show the pandemic is “a scam.”
“At this point, this is clearly not a hoax,” said Wilson, who has fully recovered from the virus. He said continued pandemic-deniers are mostly “outliers,” but many other people are frustrated over what they see as DeWine’s overreactions and also about the testing issues. Test results, including false positives, affect individual lives by triggering quarantines that are a rising concern as Ohio schools prepare to reopen.
The number of positive cases in Ohio had decreased after the first surge, hitting a low in late May. But numbers again began to rise in mid-June as Ohio began to reopen businesses.
DeWine had resisted a statewide mask mandate until July 23. He quickly backed off an earlier try at a mask requirement inside businesses and balked at closing down bars, instead recently mandating a “last call” at 10 p.m. and an 11 p.m. closing time. Nearly 3,700 Ohio deaths have been linked to the coronavirus.
Wilson thinks by now, DeWine and other government officials should allow people to make their own decisions on which precautions they need or are willing to take.
“We’ve found that people’s individual behavior matters more than those government actions anyway,” Wilson said.
Sewell reported from Cincinnati.
Follow Dan Sewell at https://twitter.com/dansewell and Andrew Welsh-Huggins at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus