Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, announced on Facebook Monday that he planned to introduce bill that would place the burden of civil liability from employee vaccine complications on employers who mandate a given vaccine.

Edwards said in his Monday night Facebook post that he is “not anti-vaccine.” He said the impetus for his planned bill stems from constituents who say they have health concerns about mandatory vaccines.

“(Employers mandating vaccines) is WRONG!” Edwards wrote on Facebook. “That is why I will soon be introducing a bill that will simply put civil liability on these Vaccine-Mandating Employers (sic) if an Employee (sic) has medical complications because of the vaccine.”

According to the CDC, medical complications from the coronavirus vaccine are rare, but not impossible. Only several thousand instances of complications have been reported among the 349 million doses administered, reflecting a small fraction of a percentage among those vaccinated.

Edwards added the intention of the planned bill would be to stand up for the “WORKING” men and women of Ohio.

Edwards’ proposed bill comes as local institutions institute vaccine and mask mandates as the delta variant of coronavirus — a more contagious strain than the original —takes root in the United States.

On Monday, Athens County moved from “moderate” to “substantial transmission,” the second-highest level of COVID-19 transmission rates.

COVID cases spiked by 67% over the past week, with 35 new cases reported, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four people were hospitalized with COVID — a 300% increase.

At press time, only Morgan, Noble, Holmes and Ashtabula counties remained at moderate (yellow) transmission levels. The majority of Ohio’s 88 counties are at high transmission levels.

OhioHealth, which operates O’Bleness Hospital in Athens and other clinics in the region, announced last week that the system’s 35,000 associates, providers and volunteers must be vaccinated against the coronavirus by December 1.

As of press time, 41.9% of Athens County residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. Vaccination rates are highest among those 65 and older, at 80.8%. Children over 12 and adults over 18 had roughly equal vaccination rates, at 46.2% and 46.8%, respectively.

The Ohio Legislature has banned schools from requiring vaccines that have not been fully approved, such as the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use, which have emergency authorization. The ban does not take effect until October, so schools could still require vaccines for fall entry, but few have done so. Public health experts predict that the current vaccines will receive full approval before the end of 2021.

That leaves masks as institutions’ primary line of defense. Last week, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson introduced an amendment to the city’s current mask policy to update it with language to reflect current CDC guidance, which encourages masking indoors.

Also last week, Ohio University announced a campus-wide indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status. All students, staff and visitors must wear masks in common areas and while entering or exiting buildings or standing in line.

Although the university is not mandating vaccination, it does require students, faculty and staff to enroll in its “COVID-19 Testing Pathway Program.” Individuals must either provide proof of full vaccination or undergo weekly COVID testing. In addition, all students living in residence halls must undergo asymptomatic testing before move-in.

Trimble Local School District, Federal Hocking Local School District, Athens City Schools and the Beacon School all have announced their 2021-22 policies or described them to The Athens Messenger.

The Beacon School and Athens City Schools will require that masks be worn at all times regardless of vaccination status, according to statements by Kevin Davis, Beacon School superintendent, and Tom Gibbs, Athens City School superintendent.

Students attending Trimble, Athens City, or the Beacon School are asked to stay home if experiencing symptoms and remain out of school until they have been symptom-free for a full 24 hours.

Alexander School District said that masks will be encouraged, not required. Nelsonville-York Local Schools has yet to release updated COVID-19 protocols.

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