On Feb. 27th, Gov. Mike DeWine appeared with Dr. Amy Acton at a press conference at MetroHealth in Cleveland to address how Ohio was preparing for the arrival of coronavirus in the state.
At that point, there were not yet any confirmed cases in Ohio, but seven patients were awaiting test results and some 212 had been asked to self quarantine due to overseas travel to regions with outbreaks.
Nevertheless, Ohio was, DeWine said, taking the issue seriously.
“Now is the time to review what you’re doing,” the governor said of schools, businesses, nursing homes and hospitals. “Now is the time for a sense of urgency.”
Meanwhile, that afternoon across town in Cleveland, WTAM's Mike Trivisonno was, as he had been for weeks, urgently downplaying the virus and using his megaphone to spread medical misinformation.
"If you listen to the media, the coronavirus is, like, the end of mankind. That's if you listen to the media. And if you pay attention... let's say it's 20-percent as severe as they're making it out to be, then why haven't we banned travel? It's just so out of control what today's media will do. They'll do anything for ratings... Rush [Limbaugh] was talking about it today," Trivisonno said of the talk show host whose most recent brush with the healthcare world was being diagnosed with lung cancer after years of publicly mocking the risks of smoking, "that the coronavirus in most cases is no different than the common cold. Now, the common cold can get to the next stage, but I wonder why they're making it sound like the end of the world. There are 8 billion people in the world. You're going to say it's a catastrophe because 87,000 people have it? In the entire world? You can't get accurate information anymore. It's really hard. I'm sorry. You have to guess what is true and what isn't, because the news has become a joke. Literally a joke. National or local or in between, it's too hard to try and figure out what the truth is. How may people in the world have a venereal disease right now? Tons. There's only 87,000 that have corona. How many people have syph[ilis]?"
As of April 17th, there have been more than 2,200,000 coronavirus cases worldwide with more than 150,000 deaths, both likely undercounts. The United States has seen more than 617,000 total cases and 35,000 deaths, the most for any country in the world. Unlike other states like New York (16,000+ deaths) and Michigan (more than 2,000 deaths), Ohio (418 deaths) acted quickly and proactively to stem the spread of the virus, and those efforts have worked. But infections are still climbing.
In between, the longtime Cleveland talk show host has parroted the worst of Fox News and right-wing radio, presenting a mirror image of that false reality where coronavirus isn't dangerous and medical experts were to be willfully ignored and, most recently, mocked and fired for, he thinks, making up numbers to justify the shelter-at-home orders.
And, all along the way, he's consistently shared demonstrably wrong information and allowed his callers and guests to share a platform to share worse: viciously anti-immigrant sentiments; anti-vax opinions; conspiracy theories; general disbelief in science; and underlying and explicit animosity toward Dr. Amy Acton, who on top of being a doctor and representing the world of science is also a woman and thus doubly troublesome for Triv's audience.
That audience might not be as big as it used to be but he still reaches a sizable portion a certain slice of Northeast Ohio, many of whom fall into the demographic that both gets their news almost exclusively from Fox News and that are at the most risk for severe outcomes if they contract the coronavirus. His schtick that in normal times is merely nutty and politically dangerous has instead become a real public health danger.
Like Hannity and his ilk, Triv is part of the ecosystem that created, in February and early March, a false sense that the virus wasn't serious and was being overstated by the media to attack the president.
"Maybe the politicians got together and said, 'Let's destroy the stock market and economy because five people tested positive for the coronavirus.' Thirty-nine people have died, and 26 died in one nursing home," Trivisonno said on-air on March 12, a few days after DeWine ordered bars and restaurants in Ohio closed. "I don't want to get into the political stuff, but with this coronavirus you got like 8 people that got it. Let me play this, from Rush, this sums up my confusion. 'The swine flu outbreak in 2009 and 2010... 60 million Americans were infected. Do you remember that? 60 million. Do you know how many were hospitalized? 300,000. And why does no one remember that. It's because we had a Democratic President.' We'll be back."
This was around the time that a Pew Research poll found that 79% of Fox News viewers believed that the media had overstated the danger of the coronavirus, for example.
By St. Patrick's Day, the Triv show was ground central for anyone who believed that the coronavirus was made by Chinese scientists in a lab and unleashed to create economic havoc in the world.
"I think it's more than a virus," Trivisonno said that day. "I think we'll play it one more time here, I think the president slipped this morning, listen closely. 'The airlines, we're going to back them, it's not their fault, it's nobody's fault, unless you go to the original source.' He slipped verbally, by saying unless you want to go to the source. I think there's more in that comment and it's amazing no other media person has picked up on this."
A caller concurred: "China definitely sent this on purpose. There's no doubt."
One of Triv's producers "verified" the outrageous lie: "I did the research on this, that it's a chemical weapon, and it's not a conspiracy."
By April 1st, as record numbers of Americans and Ohioans were applying for unemployment and the federal government was beginning to provide its insufficient economic measures to stem the damaging economic tide, President Trump was talking about opening the country in a matter of weeks. Quotes from his press conferences led Triv's show played back-to-back with clips from Dr. Amy Acton saying that we would be living with the virus for a long time, probably a couple of years, with distancing and masks necessary to prevent subsequent outbreaks.
Triv was firmly in the camp that supported unfettered life returning. He was cooped up, he wanted to play cards, he was bored, like everyone else. And it was time that healthcare experts were challenged by economists.
"This is unbelievable," he said that day. "I'm not sure what she means. Half the world will be dead [if we continue the shutdown], lemme put it this way, half the country. It amazes me with all the advisors that politicians have today, especially at the higher level, it amazes me DeWine doesn't have an economist up there with him. Because you can't just go off what the medical industry says. The medical industry will destroy the country as far as the economy goes. We'll be healthy. But no one will have jobs. There has to be a plan. the Lt. Gov. said, well the businesses are going to have to open slowly. Explain that to me. The NFL already announced their schedule. They said we're playing football. Don't worry about a thing. We're playing football."
And, as statewide orders and social distancing helped to flatten the curve, especially in states that took early action, it was also time to dabble in some false epidemiological equivalencies, comparing death totals from noncontagious causes to the toll from a virus that's killed more than 150,000 in four months while society has undertaken the most extreme measures possible to stop it.
"95 percent of people don't have the virus," Triv said, arguing the numbers don't support shutting down the economy. "I don't see it being reported that way."
And the people that do have it? Illegals in sanctuary cities.
"We're staying home because illegals are getting this virus and dying from it," a caller said, unchallenged completely. "It's the sanctuary cities that are filled with it. If you do get it, you'll walk right through it like the flu. The only people it affects are illegal aliens, old people, and people with liver and heart conditions, and illegal aliens, who've never had a shot in their life."
Early in the next week, on April 7, Trivisonno contended that masks were a bad idea.
"Wearing a mask is one of the silliest things I've ever heard," he said. "The masks are going to cause more disease than they prevent. People with filthy hands are going to touch their masks and then people are putting their masks in their jacket pockets and there's cross contamination between your phone and your hands. That's why this shutdown makes no sense to me."
On April 7, the show welcomed Gov. DeWine for the fourth time since the crisis started. With a softened tone and avoiding calling Dr. Acton Dr. Doom and Gloom as he usual does, Triv asked DeWine why there wasn't more positive news during his daily press conferences.
"There is positive medical news," DeWine said. "What the people of Ohio have done is altered the outcome. We've changed the future. It's much less likely that we'll have a meltdown of our medical system because we're overrun like New York or Italy. But we have to keep doing what we're doing. People have actually changed our projections because of what they're doing. We did this early. It was painful. But it's working, and that's positive. Fewer people are going to die."
Questions from listeners, meanwhile, at least those picked to be read on air, focused mainly on those projections, because Triv and his listeners thought they were deliberately exaggerated, and on topics given airtime by Trump in his daily campaign monologues with or without the benefit of expert input.
"Can [the governor] authorize the use of hydroxychloroquine to use on patients in Ohio immediately?"
"Should we reach mid to late April and we're not seeing 10,000 new cases a day like Dr. Acton said we would see 10 days ago should we reopen Ohio immediately?" read one.
That — the economy and the models — would be daily fodder since then.
When former sports reporter and sometimes WTAM fill-in host Dennis Manoloff called in on April 9, he "was hot."
"Have you ever met a healthcare official — not the nurses or doctors — these spokespeople, who admit they were wrong? They never admit they were wrong. They just move the goalposts," a ranting Manoloff said, sounding much like this looks
. "The models were faulty because we had data that didn't quite match up. And then the peak is gonna be in May. No it's March. No it's April. No it's June. They keep moving the goalposts. There's never accountability. They never say, you know what, we screwed up. You never hear that. We don't know how many had it and didn't have symptoms. How do you know the death rates are going up?"
Similarly strained arguments and self-unaware projections have since been shared, unfortunately but not surprisingly, by elected officials, from the president on down to Ohio House speaker Larry Householder, who's normally even-keeled but said this in an interview with the Dayton Daily News: “Now Department of Health is just saying if you have symptoms, we are saying you are positive. How does that make any sense? Unless you are trying to escalate your numbers. But 700,000 Ohioans are unemployed now while they are escalating their numbers to justify the policies.”
Representatives like Nino Vitale somehow go further.
Vitale is among those Ohio Republicans who are pressuring Gov. DeWine to undo all coronavirus orders immediately because, among other sound reasoning, we have trusted restaurant workers for decades to "control Botulism," and you "cannot control the circle of life."
Ohio will begin reopening the economy on May 1, Gov. DeWine said this week, though gradually and in phases.
Those phases have not yet been announced but will be informed in the future by hospital admissions, the availability of PPE, and testing.
We will be relying on Dr. Fauci and Dr. Acton and their colleagues around the state and country to guide us through that process while avoiding second or third waves of infections.
Of course, to Triv, they're liars. And worse.
"Dr. Fauci needs to go," Triv said on April 13th.
"When's the last time Dr. Amy Acton was right," he asked. "She can't even do the slides right."
"I'm 100% convinced this was political."
"They haven't gotten one thing right yet. You got dummies saying this is working. What is working? You have New York that's infested but it's been infested for years and years. Take a look at what's happening in the subways. The homeless are using them like penthouses. It's working. What's working?"
"They're talking about immunity cards. You wanna talk about communism?"
One day, there will hopefully be a vaccine, and that's something, at the very least, that we can all agree will be welcome news, an incontrovertible good that we can celebrate together...
"This will be the most rushed vaccine," Rob Walgate of the American Policy Roundtable said on the Triv show earlier this week. "We all know that Bill Gates is the one behind it and you can look at that stuff. You're going to inject people with this? Quite frankly, how can they do that to an American citizen."