The NFL is asking for vaccine proof at Ohio event, but the governor won’t recommend other businesses to do likewise

By: - April 28, 2021 12:40 am

An exterior view of FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Professional sports stadiums like this may wind up adding sports books under a proposal from Ohio lawmakers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images).

When the NFL draft opens in Cleveland on Thursday, people will have to show proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated to be in most rooms where the action is taking place and to attend part of the fan event.

Also, the league is requiring team employees who are medically eligible to get vaccinated or lose access to players and key facilities.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday acknowledged that with about a third of the state fully vaccinated, demand for the coronavirus is slackening. But he wouldn’t encourage other sports leagues and entertainment venues to follow the NFL’s lead and require proof of vaccination to attend events.

“It’s a private business,” DeWine said. “I don’t think the governor or state government should get involved in telling a pro-anything team that they should have an area for the vaccinated or the un-vaccinated, or require you to be vaccinated to come. That’s not my decision to make.”

The extent to which professional sports franchises are private businesses depends on the context in which that statement is being made. They’re treated as quasi-public utilities when Congress exempts them from antitrust law, or when taxpayers are asked to subsidize the venues in which they play.

Israel is a good example of what can happen when a large portion of the population is vaccinated — and how things like sporting events can be used to achieve it. Last Thursday, with about 53% of the nation’s 9 million people fully vaccinated, the country reported zero covid deaths for the first time in 10 months.

The situation is so improved, the Israeli government is considering lifting all restrictions for those holding a vaccine-proving “Green Pass” to attend sports and other entertainment events. There currently are capacity caps even for Green Pass holders which are likely to be eliminated.

Israel is also likely to ease restrictions on those who haven’t been vaccinated amid increasing inoculations and declining case numbers.

Ohio also appears to be seeing dividends from coronavirus vaccines.

So far, 4.6 million — or about 40% — of Ohioans have received at least one dose. After a variant-driven uptick in cases, increasing rates of vaccination appear to be counteracting it. 

New cases of coronavirus over the past 24 hours were below the 21-day average Tuesday.

“We have plateaued out and we’re hoping we’ve started on a downward trend,” DeWine said, attributing the progress to an increasingly vaccinated population.

However, the rate of that increase is slowing.

“There’s clearly more supply (of the vaccine) in Ohio — and I suspect in other states — than there is demand,” DeWine said.

Ohio is undertaking a number of measures to get shots into more arms. 

Mass-vaccination sites are accepting people without appointments. Some counties are conducting at-home vaccinations. Some schools are vaccinating students who are 16 or older. And state health departments are offering to help businesses and labor unions conduct workplace vaccination clinics.

But DeWine acknowledged that it’s going to get increasingly difficult to maintain the momentum.

“We’ve got a group that’s never going to get” the vaccine, he said. “That’s OK. That’s their decision. But we’ve got a group in the middle that are the persuadable ones.”

DeWine said that the best persuaders seem to be family members who convince the vaccine-reluctant to be inoculated.

But if sports teams made proof of vaccines part of the price of admission, it might add to the allure.

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

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