May 17—COLUMBUS — Ohio's health director said Monday that publicity surrounding the state's unusual $1 million-a-week vaccination lottery to battle coronavirus has already led to an uptick in the number of Ohioans rolling up their sleeves.
"This has generated national attention, international attention," Director Stephanie McCloud said. "Social media lit up. Conversations I'm hearing from lots of outside folks that are talking — this has been very successful. This past Friday was our highest vaccine administration day in three weeks, since April 23. We had 25,414 shots administered."
She said that was due in large part to an uptick in the number of older Ohioans getting shots, not just those between the ages of 12 and 15 who recently became eligible for the two-shot Pfizer vaccine.
Mr. DeWine is taking a gamble that dangling a total of $5 million over five weeks and full-ride scholarships to younger Ohioans before the eyes of unvaccinated Ohioans will reverse the slowing rate of those getting shots. The governor is tapping part of the more than $5 billion in federal coronavirus relief dollars to cover the tab.
Ms. McCloud announced Monday that the state is scrapping the idea of using Ohio's voter registration rolls as the initial pool for drawing weekly winners. Instead, the state will open up a website — www.ohiovaxamillion.com — beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday for adults to register for the cash winnings and for those aged 12 through 17 to register for the scholarship drawings.
Ohioans may also register by calling the Department of Health at 833-4-ASKODH (833-427-5634). Registrations will carry over week to week.
Given that statistically at least half of those on the voter rolls are likely not vaccinated yet, the state reasons it will be easier to use an online opt-in system through which people are on notice that they are agreeing to provide proof of vaccination.
The state on Monday reported 729 new infections, far below the daily average of 1,234 cases for the previous three weeks. There were seven new admissions to intensive care, down from the average of 12, and 72 new hospitalizations, down from the average of 106. The death count was not updated.
To date, 42.7 percent of Ohioans have received at least one shot compared to 37.5 percent who've completed the cycle. That compares to 41.9 percent and 37.2 percent, respectively, for Lucas County and 47.9 percent and 43.5 percent for Wood County.
The random, computerized drawings for both the cash and scholarships will take place at roughly 11:59 p.m. each Monday night, starting on May 24 and continuing for four more weeks. They will be conducted by the Ohio Lottery Commission with oversight by state Auditor Keith Faber's office.
Ms. McCloud said that will give the state time to verify the winners before the official announcement is made the following Wednesday, starting on May 26 and continuing through June 23, during the regular 7:29 p.m. lottery broadcast. As long as the vaccination status of the "winner" checks out, even the winner will not learn of his or her selection until the Wednesday broadcast.
Winners must be U.S. citizens and permanent state residents who have gotten at least the first shot of vaccine anywhere at any time. Those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons are not eligible.
Winners will be responsible for state and federal taxes. The state is also looking into allowing a minor who wins the scholarship to use it at a private school — although the full ride amount would be based on the most expensive public university in the state.
The $1 million prize for individuals would be paid in a lump sum while the scholarships would be handled through the state's college savings program. Unlike the official lottery, winners would not have the option of remaining unidentified.
State Rep. Gary Click (R., Vickery) is a co-sponsor to bills pending in the House of Representatives to prohibit discrimination against those who are unvaccinated, prohibit so-called "passports" to prove vaccinations, and treating vaccination as confidential medical information.
He said the governor's lottery idea has succeeded in bringing Republicans and Democrats together.
"We all hate it," he said. "What's going to happen when they pick someone whose doctor has advised them against the shot for medical reasons? If someone's name is drawn and they have chosen not to get vaccinated for any reason, will they sue for discrimination? They should.
"What if they have natural immunity and don't need the vaccine? Will that person sue? They should," he said.
Ms. McCloud stressed that the state is not pursuing any form of official vaccine "passport," digital or otherwise, through which Ohioans may prove they've gotten the shot. To verify the eligibility of would-be winners, the state will rely on the vaccine cards handed to Ohioans after they received their shots or direct contacts with their vaccine providers.
Mr. DeWine recently lifted face mask and distancing requirements for those who've been vaccinated in line with recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But all of his health orders affecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated Ohioans are scheduled to end as of June 2 — with the exception of those affecting congregate settings like nursing homes and day-care centers.
Mr. DeWine said the state is no longer sending out inspectors to enforce use of face masks in retail settings.
Even then he hopes that K-12 schools will continue to require masks as recommended by the CDC.
"The school health order extends to June 2," Mr. DeWine said. "Finish the year as they started, everyone with a mask. It is one of the most successful things that has happened. We have kept the spread out of the classroom."
But it is a decision schools will have to make, he said.
Although he has now set a firm date for the end of his emergency orders, he noted that his original metric for measuring success is tracking with the approaching June 2 date. He had initially planned to drop all health orders when new infections measured 50 or fewer a day per 100,000 people on average over two weeks.
That number had dropped to 106.9 as of Monday.
"We're going to hit that number about the time the orders come off on June 2," Mr. DeWine said.
First Published May 17, 2021, 12:36pm