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We Will Do It: Dr. Amy Acton is determined, not afraid

J.R. McMillan

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The announcement was shocking, even to the pool of hardened reporters gathered in anxious anticipation. On March 12, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered the closure of all schools in the state for at least three weeks to hopefully halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Illustration by Sarah Moore

With only a handful of confirmed cases, based largely on statistical models and patterns emerging from cities and countries around the world, Ohio was among the first to signal, almost prophetically, that life as we all knew it was about to change dramatically, perhaps forever.

Then skepticism suddenly turned to stunned silence as Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton stepped forward to reveal the possibility that more than 100,000 Ohioans were already carrying the virus.

But this dire presumption wasn’t delivered with cold calculation by a career bureaucrat who dithers or withers in front of the cameras. Instead, Acton did something remarkable, in real time. In her signature white coat and without a whiff of wonk, she calmly and confidently broke down the math behind the decision and the prediction, at one point comparing the delay in reliable data to the light of a distant star whose brightness we can only see long after the moment has passed.

And with that, Ohioans discovered the light of a different kind of star, and her moment is now.

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Even before Acton was a household name, she was already an unlikely hero. A physician since 1994, she honed both her approachable bedside manner and public policy persona at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and as an assistant professor at Ohio State. During her brief tenure at The Columbus Foundation, Acton was instrumental in raising nearly $2.5 million in just six weeks to combat youth homelessness, blowing past every expectation. It was a philanthropic success that was also hauntingly personal.

It isn’t without irony that as Ohio businesses close their doors, many for the last time, that Youngstown’s venerated daily newspaper, The Vindicator, published its final edition this past August with an intimate portrait of Acton. Then, she was still the local homecoming queen who had beaten the odds, gone on to college, ultimately becoming the top public health official in the state.

The “grit and grace” we see today, so noted by Doug Kridler, President and CEO of The Columbus Foundation, was undeniably born of a chaotic, often tragic, childhood. Acton’s parents separated when she was just three, and in the decade that followed before reuniting with her father, she lived in a constant state of uncertainty. This included living in more than a dozen places in as many years across the country, some less desirable than others; she lived once in an unfinished basement, and even spent a winter in a tent. Only after abuse at the hands of one of her mother’s string of boyfriends did life for Acton finally start to turn around. Her father was granted full custody, and she’s never seen her mother again.

But even this backstory only surfaced in retrospect. The newspaper’s website also shut down a day after the final edition hit the streets. No likes, shares, or tweets. Only later were the archives posted online, with that closing interview receiving overdue attention in recent weeks, much like Acton herself.

“Lots of powerful souls walk among us,” noted Todd Franko, former Editor in Chief of The Vindicator. “Last August, she walked in and walked out of our office, and no one knew her. They know her now.”

Yet in darkness, there is still light, with dutiful denizens across the state tuning in daily for afternoon “Wine with DeWine.” But even that fierce following may pale in comparison to the more than 50,000 members of Acton’s entirely unofficial Facebook fan club. The conversation waxes and wanes from harrowing accounts to rays of revelry, from the testimonials of healthcare providers on the frontline of the crisis to heated debate about which actress should portray Acton in some future Hollywood feature. (For those keeping score, Allison Janney, Dana Delany, and Anne Hathaway are currently the top casting contenders.) Local apparel company Homage also honored her with a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Not all heroes wear capes.”

Even Acton herself is not above public levity amid unprecedented circumstances. A photo from a recent morning meeting in the lower level of the statehouse went viral, with staffers seemingly orbiting a laughing Acton from a safe social distance. It was a rare and candid glimpse of the loyalty she fosters among the small army she inspires, no longer
in anonymity.

Her candor coupled with compassion is at the heart of her appeal. The mother of six, one of whom offers her his own daily briefings on her online following from his home in Menlo Park, has been called “Ohio’s Mom” for the tough love that belies every escalating restriction that unfolds aimed at minimizing the worst case scenarios.

It’s the same honesty tempered with hope that won DeWine over barely a year ago. Acton neither sought nor expected to become the governor’s final, perhaps his most crucial, cabinet selection. In discussing the role with him, she offered an unvarnished, apolitical assessment of Ohio’s challenges and opportunities to improve public health, and prepare for unforeseen threats to it.

Thankfully, he hired her anyway.

The hasty cancellation of in-person voting the day before the state’s primary and extension of absentee voting by mail was deemed politically untenable, until it wasn’t. After what was expected to be an uncontested delay erupted into a last-minute legal reversal, Acton’s authority to protect citizens in the midst of a public health emergency found precedent in an obscure provision of the Ohio Revised Code from 1886 in response to an outbreak of tuberculosis. 

Now, Ohio leads the country in its response, with fellow states following suit, though not without criticism. The impact on businesses directly and indirectly is as controversial as it is unavoidable. DeWine is charged with an impossible task, desperately trying to land a plane safely, despite the fact that it’s coming apart in the air. There will be casualties, actual and economic. But reducing the former requires increasing the latter. Acton is not only his copilot, but is additionally charged with assuring passengers that they are doing everything they can just
to survive.

This is why we need Acton right now—she’s a guiding star in what often seems like an endless night. When human nature and history tend to suggest turning on each other, she’s quick to remind us that we’re all in this together. She’s the hero we didn’t know was in our midst, the same powerful soul who walked up to a podium and into our lives barely a month ago practically unknown, but who is now a part of our daily routine. When all of this is behind us, we’re going to look back on how we have changed. And when that day comes, we will surely have Acton to thank for telling us exactly what we needed to hear, when we needed to hear it, just to get through another day. We should all be forever grateful for her words.

“I don’t want you to be afraid. I’m not afraid. I am determined,” Acton famously confessed. “All of us are going to have to sacrifice. And I know someday, we’ll be looking back and wondering what was it we did in
this moment.”

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Arts & Culture

Loop Daddy invades Columbus with first-ever drive-in tour

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The return of live music is going to be one of the trickiest industries to transition back into business as usual, if that will ever be the case. We’ve seen people getting creative, building concert stages within their own homes via live streaming. Some have participated in virtual festivals, probably the sector of live music to take the biggest hit.

But when an industry made up of innovative creatives always trying to come up with the next big idea is faced with incredible hardships, they respond with quick-witted imaginative solutions.

One of the first trends that popped up in the revolution of bringing back live music was the implementation of drive-in lots. Luckily for Columbus, the darling of the internet DJ scene Marc Rebillet aka Loop Daddy will be taking his first-ever drive-in tour through the Buckeye state in mid-June.

Captivating audiences with his participatory DJ scratching and immature antics, extremely goofy sex appeal, and sleazy porno stache, Rebillet was an act poised for a breakout summer before the pandemic shut music concert venues down. If you have access to a car, though, you’ll still have a chance to catch the wild virtual sensation.

On June 14, Rebillet will be pulling up to the South Drive-In for the third stop of his Drive-In Concert Tour. Rebillet will also be showcasing short films as part of his drive-in experience.

As far as sound is going for these events, a lot of drive-ins are opting to go the radio transmission route to encourage people to stay inside of their vehicles.

A very few grouping of tickets remain, which include three-person and four-person car passes. Tickets are running $40 per head (plus additional fees), which seems to be the average across the new wave of drive-in concerts. Two-people/one-car tickets have already sold out.

If you don’t want to miss out on this unique opportunity, act right now. Tickets can be purchased at:

https://nightout.com/events/marc-rebillet-drive-in-tour-columbus-ohio-south-drive-in-presented-by-hotbox/tickets.

Social distancing guidelines are outlined at the point of purchase.

The South Drive-In is located at 3050 S. High St. Doors open at 8 p.m. with the show beginning at 9 p.m. Attendees need to arrive before 8:45 p.m. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

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Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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(614) Music Club: Sarob

Julian Foglietti

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Every week (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist of what they’re listening to, and what’s inspiring them. This week’s playlist is brought to you by the R&B artist Sarob.


Photo by: Wyze

Tell me about some of the songs you’ve selected.

"The first one is Sobeautiful by Musiq Soulchild. So every week with my vocal coach, I have to learn a song. And I've been trying to figure out how to do vocal gliding. Which is not a strong point for me, and I remember hearing that song and being like, OK, this is it. The song is just beautifully written and composed, so when you add the technique to it, it’s just great. The other song was Workin On It by Dwele, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. Workin On It uses this J Dilla beat that just feels really timeless."

Have the past few months changed the direction or mood of the music you're creating. 

"So I have been making stuff here and there, and then I'll go into something creative for like two days. I'll just be making like a bunch of songs and then I'll stop for two weeks, not even want to look at a microphone or anything. I mean, it's a lot more inward, so I’m learning how to better communicate the things I'm experiencing, and set the scenes for people and talk about what is going on. Also not having my band has been a challenge. I’m more of a thinker, I play the keyboard, and I can build a song, but I’m not the most gifted musician so having to build a lot of it on my own is tricky."

Do you have any plans or releases coming up? 

"Yeah, so I had a song Pleasures U Like that was made for my last album, but it didn’t quite fit the story of the album. So I just forgot about it until recently and I finished the vocals just before the lockdown, and now I’m releasing it on Bandcamp as part of a fundraiser for The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. All of the proceeds from the song are going to go to support their Pandemic Emergency Fund, and it just felt like a good way to do something that would impact everything going on."

Sarob's Playlist

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