Ohio will end its pandemic restrictions on June 2, and will give away $1 million prizes and college scholarships as incentives to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced the unusual vaccination incentives Wednesday, in an effort to improve vaccination rates before the state fully reopens. Starting May 26, adult Ohioans who have received at least one vaccine dose will be entered into a drawing, with the winner getting $1 million. The lottery will run every Wednesday for five weeks, with five winners.
There will also be five random drawings for vaccinated Ohio residents under 18, with the winners getting four-year scholarships to an Ohio public university — including tuition, room-and-board and books.
DeWine said the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds, and the drawings will be carried out by the Ohio Lottery.
“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
State Rep. Emilia Sykes criticized the use of federal funds. “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis,” she said, according to the Associated Press.
In a statement, DeWine said Ohio is aiming to average 50 or fewer coronavirus cases per 100,000 over a two-week period. After topping 800 in December, that rate was 200 four weeks ago, and is down to 123 today, he said.
About 42% of Ohio residents have received at least one vaccine dose, though demand has fallen in recent weeks.
DeWine said current restrictions and mask mandates will be lifted June 2, with the exception of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.
“For a year, Ohioans have made sacrifices to save lives and keep our state moving forward. What you have done has truly worked!” DeWine said in a statement. “Everyone can now control their own health. Everyone can now control their own destiny. So, it is time — it’s time to end the health orders.”
He noted that some businesses may still require masks, and that “lifting these orders does not mean the virus is gone.”