Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

Ohioans seem to be living in two realities. Coronavirus cases are soaring, but many refuse to acknowledge it.

Spoiler alert: President Trump might have something to do with the dissonance.

Ohio got some of its worse coronavirus news to date on Thursday, with Gov. Mike DeWine reporting yet another record in cases over the past 24 hours — 2,425— along with an alarming increase in hospitalizations due to the disease.

And as he reported those numbers in his covid press conference, DeWine invited some sobering testimony from a prominent covid sufferer.

“It’s like getting beaten up from the inside out,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said via Zoom, describing his recent bout with coronavirus that landed him in the intensive-care unit for six-and-a-half days.

Go to the 6:10 minute mark of the news conference to watch the Zoom call between former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Mike DeWine. (Video: The Ohio Channel)

Christie described the isolation of lying alone in a room, communicating with hospital workers by white board through two-inch glass and not knowing whether he’d ever make it out.

“That combination of physical and psychological stress was pretty unique in my life and pretty extraordinary,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough: I know how tired everybody is… But as tired as you are of strapping that mask on or going to the sink and washing those hands again, I can tell you, you will take those days in a heartbeat compared to getting this disease.”

Yet at the same time, people living in a very different reality were expressing themselves on DeWine’s Twitter feed. 

Some were falsely arguing that the fall spike in cases is proof that wearing masks doesn’t mitigate the spread of the virus. Others were advancing a fringe theory that it would be worth the human cost to pursue herd immunity before a vaccine arrives.

Still others claimed that the increase in cases was due only to the greater testing that is being done. 

In response to DeWine’s admonition that Ohioans “pay attention and get serious” about the spike, one skeptic seemed to need the most grisly proof before being convinced that the pandemic was real.

“Where are all the dead bodies, the mass burials, the pages upon pages of obituaries and the endless funeral processions?” #Trumpster tweeted. “I’m just not seeing it or believing it governor.” 

The poster’s Twitter handle might have provided a clue as to the source of all the skepticism.

Asked about some of the myths being posted as fact, DeWine took particular exception to the claim that coronavirus cases are only increasing because there’s more testing.

“The whole idea that cases are going up solely because we are increasing testing is just nuts,” DeWine said, “It’s not right. The way you can tell it is look at our increase in (the rate of positive results.) Generally, if you go out and test a wider and wider group of people… and testing many people who don’t have symptoms, you would expect that the positivity rate would go down. That is not what has happened.”

Yet that claim has repeatedly been made by the man DeWine is supporting for president — Donald Trump. Most recently, Trump made it in a “60 Minutes” interview that’s scheduled to air on Sunday. In violation of his agreement with CBS, Trump released an unedited, 37-minute recording of the interview.

In the recording, Trump rarely allows the reporter, Leslie Stahl, to complete a sentence, but in a Tweet he claimed the opposite.

“Watch her constant interruptions and anger,” he wrote. “Compare my full, flowing and ‘magnificently brilliant” ‘answers to their ‘Q’s’.”

One of those “magnificently brilliant” statements was that the only reason covid case counts are spiking is due to increased testing. The same claim DeWine called “nuts.”

There was a similar gulf between Christie’s comments and those of Trump, his close political ally. 

Christie described his diligent mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing. And then, for the first time in seven months, he skipped those precautions when he went to the White House to help Trump prepare for the first presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Trump has mostly appeared in public without a mask and even mocked Biden during the debate for wearing one.

“I walked through the gates and found out that I had tested negative at the White House Medical Unit, I took my mask off and I left it off, but only for the time I was inside those gates,” Christie said.

He later added, “I made a huge mistake by taking that mask off and I hope it’s something no other Americans have to go through.”

(This column was edited by Loveland Magazine)