Editorial: Saluting Ohio’s Hero, Dr. Amy Acton

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In the past, most Ohioans likely had no idea who the state’s health director was, even if they even knew about the work the state’s health department does.

The coronavirus pandemic changed that, throwing public health officials nationwide into an unprecedented spotlight, making people like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx household names.

Among these officials, few have achieved the level of recognition for their efforts of Ohio’s Dr. Amy Acton, who recently announced she is stepping down as director of the Ohio Department of Health. She will remain involved with the state’s effort to fight the coronavirus as an adviser to Gov. Mike DeWine. 

The Youngstown native counseled DeWine early on steps to combat the emerging pandemic. Under her guidance, Ohio was among the first states to order schools closed and limit public gatherings to combat the spread of the coronavirus, and she has continued to advise DeWine through the subsequent stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns, which have been credited for mitigating the spread of the virus and keeping deaths far lower than predicted early on. 

Ohio has nearly 39,000 confirmed cases and 2,400 deaths as of Thursday, compared with more than 77,000 cases and 6,100 deaths in neighboring Pennsylvania and nearly 65,000 cases and 5,900 in Michigan. Ohio has a population of nearly 11.7 million, compared with Michigan’s 9.9 million and Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million.

The once-daily updates where she joined DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted became appointment television for Ohioans, many of whom were confined to their homes as their workplaces were shut down. Her frank but empathetic delivery of the facts and what was being demanded of Ohioans offered welcome reassurance during what has been a frightening time for Ohioans. On a regular basis, she urged Ohioans to “don your cape,” later asking them to also “don your mask” as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus.  

The doctor has inspired a devoted group of followers who established a Facebook fan club in her honor. A cartoon parody of the “Laverne and Shirley” theme song features her and DeWine. Her role in Ohio’s efforts to address the coronavirus has been featured in the New York Times. She even has her own bobblehead.   

Acton’s efforts haven’t gone unchallenged. Critics have accused her of overreaching, with opponents of the state orders – some armed – protesting at the state capitol, as well as in the neighborhood of her suburban Columbus home. 

DeWine has acknowledged critics’ right to protest but argued that those protests should be directed at him, the final decision-maker, and not Acton, whom he appointed. 

“The buck stops with me,” he said. 

If protesting in Acton’s neighborhood wasn’t enough, opponents have crossed other lines as well. Acton has faced lawsuits from restaurants, gyms, amusement parks and others who opposed aspects of the shutdown orders. Republican lawmakers sought to strip her authority, an action that led some to speculate whether they would have taken the same action from a man in the role.

In one particularly contemptible incident, a Republican state senator pledged on Facebook that he would not allow Acton – who is Jewish – to turn Ohio into Nazi Germany. 

As she moves into her new role, Acton can take pride in the knowledge that her guidance has helped save the lives of her fellow Ohioans, and we in the Mahoning Valley can take pride in the role one of our own has played. 

As DeWine stated Thursday, “Not all heroes wear capes. Some of them wear a white coat embossed with the name Dr. Amy Acton.”          

Image via AP Photo/Tony Dejak 

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.