(The Center Square) — Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, who during the COVID-19 pandemic has been both a magnet for praise and a lightning rod for criticism, is stepping down from her post. She will remain an advisor to Gov. Mike DeWine.
Republicans in the legislature and small business owners who felt the state took a heavy-handed approach with its pandemic response were particularly critical of Acton.
In her new role, Acton “will take a comprehensive and holistic approach to address health and well-being for all Ohioans,” DeWine said on Twitter. Lance Himes, who previously served as ODH’s interim director, will assume the role until a permanent replacement is named.
“I didn’t run for election, and this is a new world to me,” Acton said during a news conference when asked about the pressure she faced. “…For anyone doing this job, you’d be surprised how much … of that isn’t your focus.
“The need to protect Ohioans and save lives was so intense, especially during this first phase, I can honestly say … it had to be a single point meditation on the task at hand, and it remains that,” Acton added.
Opposition to Acton has been intense, and she has been the target of lawsuits filed by business owners who opposed the state’s measures closing businesses deemed non-essential and putting other restrictions in place. Protesters even gathered outside of Acton’s Columbus-area house to express their frustration.
As state lawmakers returned to Columbus in recent weeks, Republicans filed a series of bills to reduce the ODH director’s power to issue orders forcing businesses deemed nonessential to close in the wake of a pandemic.
Last month, the state House added a provision to Senate Bill 1 to give state lawmakers oversight of pandemic orders. The state Senate rejected the proposal, but lawmakers introduced additional bills that are currently pending.
“While the decisions were always mine, her counsel was superb,” DeWine said in a Tweet echoing comments he made during a news conference. “I will always believe and know that many lives were saved because of her wise advice.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Ohio reported 40,004 cases of COVID-19 and 2,490 deaths.
“Few have been as wise, brave, and compassionate throughout this pandemic than Ohio’s own Dr. Amy Acton,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a tweet. “Without a doubt, her leadership saved countless lives in Ohio. On behalf of a grateful state – thank you for your service, Dr. Acton.”
Todd DeFeo is a contributor to The Center Square