Skip to main content

In this Oct. 1, 2019 file photo, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during a press conference calling on the state legislature to ban flavored vaping liquids at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.The Canadian Press

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, an early advocate among Republicans of wearing masks and other pandemic precautions, tested positive Thursday for the coronavirus just ahead of a planned meeting with President Donald Trump.

The Republican governor’s office said he took the test as part of standard protocol before he was to meet Trump at an airport in Cleveland. He had planned to join the president on a visit to the Whirlpool Corp. plant in northwest Ohio.

“A big surprise to me and certainly a big surprise to our family,” DeWine said at a late afternoon news conference broadcast from his porch on his farm in Cedarville in southwestern Ohio, where he plans to quarantine for 14 days.

Dewine, 73, said he didn’t know how he contracted it. He said he’s already been spending much of his time at his farm keeping his distance from family members and staff. His diagnosis should not lessen the importance of wearing a mask and practising social distancing, DeWine said.

“The lesson that should come from this is that we’re all human, this virus is everywhere and this virus is very tough,” DeWine said. “And yes you can contract it even if wearing a mask.”

The governor said “the odds are dramatically better” of avoiding a positive test if people wear a mask.

DeWine, in his first term as governor, is one of Ohio’s most familiar politicians, previously serving as a U.S. congressman, two-term U.S. senator, Ohio attorney general and lieutenant governor.

His office said DeWine had no symptoms. Before Trump landed, DeWine headed back to his official residence in suburban Columbus, where he was tested a second time along with his wife, Fran DeWine. DeWine then drove to Cedarville.

Trump offered DeWine his best wishes and said “he’ll be fine” in remarks after arriving at the airport, where he was greeted by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who tested negative.

“A very good friend of mine just tested positive,” Trump said. He added that DeWine “has done a fantastic job.”

Trump’s visit to Ohio comes amid signs that he faces a tight race with former Vice-President Joe Biden in a state he carried by 8 percentage points in 2016.

DeWine becomes the second U.S. governor to test positive for the coronavirus after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced he contracted the virus last month.

The number of positive cases in Ohio had decreased after the first surge, hitting a low in late May. But numbers again began to rise in mid-June as Ohio began to reopen businesses. More than 3,600 Ohioans have died.

In recent weeks, DeWine has pleaded with Ohioans to take personal responsibility over the virus’ spread across the state. He had resisted a statewide mask mandate until July 23. DeWine’s first try at a statewide requirement for wearing masks inside businesses – back in April – drew backlash that led him to rescind that directive the following day, a stutter among the aggressive moves that had won him early praise in his efforts to curb the virus.

Mask-wearing also has been a point of contention at the Statehouse, where many Democratic lawmakers have donned masks while many Republican lawmakers have not. DeWine has often found himself at odds with members of his own party on the policy.

The Ohio Democratic Party’s chair, who has praised DeWine’s pandemic response while sharply criticizing Trump’s, said the news was saddening and that the governor’s fellow Ohioans support DeWine and his family at this time.

“We know how hard he’s been working to keep Ohioans safe, and this is just one more reminder that this virus can impact everyone,” David Pepper said in a statement.

DeWine’s key health adviser during the pandemic, Dr. Amy Acton, left government this week. In the early months, she joined DeWine at daily briefings and was a popular figure. However, backlash against state restrictions helped lead to a protest at her home and her decision to step away from the spotlight.

Since early in the pandemic, DeWine has hosted his daily briefings from a private room above where the press corps gathers at the Ohio Statehouse. He would appear on a television in front of the reporters, who could step up to a microphone and ask questions.

DeWine held one of those briefings Tuesday but no other public events had been announced for this week besides his meeting with Trump.

In at least two briefings, DeWine has shared how the virus has taken the lives of several friends, urging the public to think about their loved ones, especially grandparents, when leaving the house and not following social-distancing protocols. The governor has 23 grandchildren.

Notably, DeWine and his wife, Fran, had avoided political rallies or meeting with members of the White House since the pandemic began. In June, the governor was scheduled to appear at a former General Motors plant in Lordstown but decided against it when Vice-President Mike Pence announced he was going. The facility is now occupied by Lordstown Motors, which plans to build electric pickup trucks there.

“Quite candidly, throughout this pandemic, (first lady) Fran and I have avoided crowds,” DeWine said. “We have not gone out to be close with a lot of people. So we’re not going to do that.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.