Louisiana COVID vaccine lottery likely on the way as governor lifts school mask mandate

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he will likely create a vaccine lottery or other incentives to boost the state's dismal COVID-19 vaccination rate, while also announcing most of his remaining pandemic restrictions like mask requirements in schools will be lifted.

Edwards said his new order beginning Wednesday will keep the state in a declared public health emergency, but the few remaining restrictions on bars and event crowd sizes will be lifted. Masks will only be required in health care facilities and public transportation.

Gov John Bel Edwards receives Covid 19 Vaccination. Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

He said Louisiana will join other states like Ohio, New York and Maryland in offering prize money as an incentive to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Edwards, the Deep South's only Democratic governor, said details on the incentive program are still being worked out and won't be finalized until next week.

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"I'm not prepared to announce it today, but certainly there will be incentives in the near future," he said. "But I hope people don't wait on incentives."

Louisiana's vaccination rate of people receiving at least one dose is 35.1%, ahead of only Mississippi.

The governor has grown increasingly frustrated with the state's lagging pace of vaccinations, repeatedly saying he is "very disappointed."

"We have to do better," Edwards said.

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Other states that have turned to lotteries to get more people vaccinated have shown sometimes startlingly successful results.

Almost 3 million residents have registered for Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery that offers the chance for a $1 million prizes for adults or college scholarships for children.

An Associated Press analysis showed vaccinations jumped 33% after Gov. Mike DeWine announced the program on May 12.

“We’ve seen increases really across all demographic groups,” DeWine announced Monday. “That’s a very, very good thing.”

More:Ohio will give away $1 million, college scholarships to 10 lucky people who get COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. DeWine announces

The White House gave its stamp of approval on vaccine lotteries during a press briefing Friday.

“From the data we've seen, they appear to be working,” said Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for the COVID-19 response.

“I think the reason they work is because the vast number of people who are not yet vaccinated are actually not opposed to getting vaccinated,” he said. “They're just not prioritizing it very high. There are other things going on in their lives. Things that draw attention to it, like the lotteries in those states you mentioned, are, not surprisingly, very effective. And so we're enthusiastic.”

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.