New state orders give preference to the vaccinated

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Jim Provance, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·4 min read
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May 5—COLUMBUS — Even as Ohio lawmakers consider bills to prohibit businesses and government from discriminating against the unvaccinated, Gov. Mike DeWine is dangling carrots to convince people to get shots against coronavirus.

Want to avoid quarantining for a week after being exposed? Get vaccinated. Are you a nursing home or assisted-living facility employee who's sick of your nasal passages needing to be swabbed twice a week? Get vaccinated.

These moves are part of a growing trend in both the public and private sectors of putting fully vaccinated people — those who've completed their full cycles and waited two weeks after the last shot — at the head of the line when it comes to lifting restrictions that still apply to those who, for a variety of reasons, have not rolled up their sleeves.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recent weeks eased its recommendations for wearing face masks while outdoors for the vaccinated and while attending indoor gatherings as long as all present have gotten shots.

While much of the National Football League draft in Cleveland was outdoors, the league specifically relaxed mask and physical-distancing restrictions in indoor draft rooms as long as all present had been fully vaccinated.

"The NFL made a decision: If you're vaccinated, you can be here," Mr. DeWine said. "They made that decision. We didn't make that decision. We are also following medical facts when we say someone who is working in a nursing home who is now testing twice a week, if you've been vaccinated, you don't really need to be tested twice a week.

"It's not that we don't care about one citizen more than the other. That's not it," he said. "... It's just science is going to drive those distinctions between those who have been vaccinated and those who have not been vaccinated, and many of those are being driven by the private sector."

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He hinted that more such orders will be coming.

On Tuesday, the state reported 1,285 new cases, up from the last couple of days but still below the three-week rolling average of 1,598. In all, 1,077,284 cases have been documented in Ohio.

There were 204 newly hospitalized Ohioans, well above the 21-day average of 120. The state reported 60 new deaths over the last few days for a total of 19,344.

To date, 4.7 million, or 40.5 percent, of Ohioans have received at least the first shot of vaccine. Of those, 3.9 million, or 33.3 percent, have completed the vaccine cycle.

That compares with 40.1 percent and 33.6 percent, respectively, for Lucas County and 45.8 percent and 40 percent for Wood County.

Mr. DeWine has expressed no interest in mandating vaccinations or generally requiring proof of vaccination. But some businesses — such as cruise lines and airlines — have talked about mandating proof, as have some countries regarding international travel.

State Rep. Jennifer Gross (R., West Chester) has introduced House Bill 248, the would-be Vaccine Choice and Anti-Discrimination Act. It would generally bar discrimination based on vaccine status.

The bill would allow someone to opt out of vaccination even if a government entity, school, college or university, child day-care center, corporation, or business mandates it. The person would have to cite — either verbally or in writing — a medical, natural-immunity, or religious reason for opting out.

"Schoolchildren have had the ability to have a waiver since the 1970s for religion, conscientious, or medical purposes," Ms. Gross said. "We do not have large outbreaks of disease. Eighty-five percent [generally] choose to be vaccinated. Giving freedom not to vaccinate does not make Ohio less safe."

Under a pending rewrite of the bill, people could also generally not be forced to disclose vaccination status. The Ohio attorney general could bring court action and seek civil penalties for violations.

An Air Force veteran flight nurse and licensed nurse practitioner who is not currently practicing, Ms. Gross has worked with two outside organizations — Health Freedom Ohio and Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom — in drafting her bill.

But she stressed she believes in vaccines. Everyone else in her family has had the coronavirus vaccine, she said. She has personally been infected with the virus. Before this year, she said, she had routinely gotten the flu vaccine, and she has advised her college-bound son to get the required meningitis vaccine.

"This bill is not a bill against vaccines," Ms. Gross said. "This is a freedom bill. It's not a fight against employers. It's not a fight against hospitals. It doesn't say I don't believe in vaccines, because quite frankly I do. How much is too much freedom?"

Meanwhile, state Rep. Al Cutrona (R., Canfield) has introduced House Bill 253 to prohibit state and local government entities from specifically requiring people to show digital proof of vaccination against coronavirus to enter their buildings. Whether someone has or has not been vaccinated would be deemed confidential information that could not be disclosed absent the individual's written consent.

Both bills await their first hearings in the Ohio House of Representatives' Health Committee.