OHIO — The Ohio Department of Health released its guidance for the upcoming school year Monday, going along with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said the state's guidance has been carefully reviewed by many health officials, and reminded Ohioans that the recommendations are not mandates, but should be strongly taken into consideration.
Vanderhoff said these are the three major recommendations:
1. Encourage COVID-19 vaccinations for staff and eligible students
2. Unvaccinated students and staff should wear masks indoors, and outdoors if there are crowds or where social distancing isn't possible
3. Improve ventilation in schools — such as investing in better HVAC systems, and continue to utilize social distancing and hand santizing
Vanderhoff said the guidance, along with considering the recommendations from other organizations, comes as cases of the delta variant rise in Ohio and nationwide.
“It simply takes less of this virus to spread from the mouth or the nose of an affected person to that of another non-affected person," Vanderhoff said.
Vanderhoff noted while most children may not get severe symptoms, many of them still do. One side affect he mentioned was multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), which Vanderhoff said has caused "hundreds" of hospitalizations of children in recent months.
The syndrome causes organs to become inflammed, including the heart, lungs and kidneys, according to the CDC.
Nationally, the CDC reported as of July 14 the seven-day moving average of daily COVID-19 cases increased 69.3% from the previous week and hospitalizations also increased by 35.8%.
In Ohio, Vanderhoff and other health officials have warned for weeks the delta variant is on its way to becoming the dominant strain in the state. In the last month and a half, ODH reported its highest number of cases on July 22 with 822 cases.
While a number of districts said they are awaiting state guidance for schools, quite a few have already issued policies for the upcoming school year.
Some of the largest urban districts in the state, like the Cleveland Metrolitan School District and Columbus City Schools, said they will be requiring masks for students and staff. Others, like Parma City Schools, said they are not requiring them for unvaccinated or vaccinated students and staff.
Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended students should wear face masks at school regardless of vaccination status.
"The AAP believes that, at this point in the pandemic, given what we know about low rates of in-school transmission when proper prevention measures are used, together with the availability of effective vaccines for those age 12 years and up, that the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in almost all circumstances," the guidance reads.
Vanderhoff said ODH's full guidance will be released no later than Tuesday. He said officials know the importance of in-person learning, and in order to be successful, schools should implement the guidance.
“The safety of Ohio’s children is paramount," Vanderhoff said. “COVID-19 vaccines simply offer the best protection against COVID-19, followed by masks with layered safety measures like social distancing.”