COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Dr. Amy Acton has resigned as Ohio’s health director, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday, capping a contentious few months as the target of frustrations during the coronavirus pandemic that included gun-carrying critics showing up at her home.
Acton was most recently sued by organizers of music festivals and restaurant owners as the slow reopening unfolded.
“I really want to say most of all to Ohioans: Ohioans, you have saved lives. You’ve done this,” she said at a news briefing.
Acton, who called her time as the state health director an “honor of a lifetime,” faced House Republicans seeking to restrict her authority last month due as frustrations grew over aggressive stay-at-home orders.
The governor has defended Acton, saying his fellow Republicans should be focused on increasing coronavirus testing, dealing with a $775 million budget deficit and reopening the economy.
“I will always believe and know that many lives were saved because of her wise advice,” DeWine said Thursday.
Lance Himes, the general counsel for the Health Department, will assume duties of interim health director as Acton goes on to serve as DeWine’s chief health adviser.
“It’s true not all heroes wear capes,” said DeWine, who has won praise for his handling of the disease in Ohio. “Some of them do, in fact, wear a white coat, and this particular hero’s white coat is embossed with the name Dr. Amy Acton.”
Running the department, handling the pandemic and advising the governor were three different jobs, Acton said, and she wanted to devote her efforts to one area.
She said she wants to take a few days off to spend with her family.
In other coronavirus-related news in Ohio:
Attorney General Dave Yost is moving to dismiss the misdemeanor criminal case against owners of a Cambridge restaurant that reopened while the state was still prohibiting in-person dining service.
The state’s policy “is better served by a civil injunction,” but that would be moot at this point, Yost said, as restaurants are now allowed to be open if they take certain health precautions.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which represented Vicki Brearley, owner of the National Road Diner, had previously sought the case’s dismissal, arguing that criminalizing conduct based only on the orders of the state health director — who resigned Thursday after blowback including the National Road case — was unconstitutional.
The center’s executive director, Maurice Thompson, said the state was “seeking to imprison a harmless woman for simply running her own restaurant.”
The Ohio House has passed four bills related to the pandemic and sent them to the Senate.
The measures, approved Tuesday, boost access to telemedicine, a method for delivering medical appointments remotely; permanently allow alcohol delivery and carryout begun during the coronavirus quarantine; add certain powers for pharmacists; and expand local and state COVID-19 reporting.
Legislative debate continues over how the spread of COVID-19 will be tracked. The Senate has sent to the House a bill laying out guidelines for contact tracing, an issue that has divided the two chambers.
As of Tuesday, Ohio has recorded 39,162 confirmed or probable coronavirus cases, with 2,421 confirmed or probable COVID-19 deaths, up 17 from the previous day, the health department said.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.
The number of virus-related hospitalizations in the state was 6,620.
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko contributed to this report.