​​​COLUMBUS, Ohio — Officials with Ohio’s children’s hospitals on Tuesday urged the state’s school district superintendents to require masks

What You Need To Know

  • Children's hospitals say they're concerned about their ability to care for every Ohio child in need 

  • Hospital officials asked school district superintendents to impose mask mandates due to the surge

  • DeWine said he would have issued a school-mask mandate if not for legislation that restricts his powers

During a Tuesday news conference, with the children’s hospital officials, Gov. Mike DeWine said he agrees that school districts should require masks while COVID-19 numbers are at the current high levels.

“If a child is too young to be vaccinated, then until we get through this, we need students who come to school to wear a mask,” DeWine said. 

President of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association Nick Lashutka said the children’s hospitals shared their belief with the superintendents that masking will be critical this fall if schools are to safely keep their students in school five days per week.

In Ohio, child hospitalizations increased from 108 to 159 in a weekly update Monday. The worsening trends in the state mirror national trends. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported 243,373 weekly child COVID-19 cases in the U.S. on Monday, just shy of a record set the week before. 

Monday night in Toledo, ProMedica Russell J. Ebeid Children’s Hospital was operating on EMS bypass, meaning that the hospital could not accept most EMS patient transports, according to Paula Grieb, chief nursing officer. In fact, all of the emergency departments in the county were on bypass for more than eight hours.

Grieb said officials believe that it was an unprecedented occurrence, at least in the last 30 years. 

“If a rescue squad was called for a 911 call and needed to pick up a patient and deliver them to a hospital, that hospital was on bypass, that rescue squad is not allowed to stop at that hospital,” Grieb said.

If not for legislation that took effect at the beginning of summer limiting his authorities on COVID-19, Senate Bill 22, DeWine said he would have reinstated a mask mandate for schools by now. 

“If I could put on a statewide mandate, if the health department could do it, we would do it. What the legislature has made very clear is that if we put on a statewide mandate, they will take it off,” he said.

DeWine said he fears it would cause confusion for Ohioans if he were to issue a health order that gets quickly overturned by the General Assembly. 

The governor said 54.4% of Ohio students are required to wear masks, a number that he hopes will continue to rise as more schools respond to the surge of COVID-19 cases. 

Since Aug. 15, 29,000 school-age children have contracted COVID-19, DeWine said. The case rate per 100,000 people for the previous two weeks is 909 for children in Ohio, much higher than the rate of 561 for all Ohioans. 

“We are at exceedingly high numbers right now. They are not going down, and as the children's hospitals have made very clear, it's not just children who have COVID who are threatened,” DeWine said. 

President of Dayton Children’s Hospital Debbie Feldman said the hospital is strained with high patient numbers, which resulted in 40 families leaving the hospital last week without their child being seen. During normal times, that almost never happens, she said. 

“This risk of children leaving without being seen in an emergency department is something that weighs very heavily on all of us,” she said. 

In Columbus, Dr. Rustin Morse, chief medical officer at Nationwide Children’s, said the hospital is experiencing record COVID-19 volumes, with more than 30 patients admitted and 10 in the intensive care unit.

Cincinnati Children’s is also caring for the highest number of COVID-19 patients it has seen since the start of the pandemic, Chief of Staff Dr. Patty Manning said. 

Manning said a recent analysis of COVID-19 in seven Cincinnati-area school districts showed that schools with universal masking have far fewer cases than those that do not. 

DeWine also said that his administration has reviewed initial statewide COVID-19 numbers that show a “fundamental difference” between schools with mask mandates, which are reporting low case numbers, and districts without mask mandates, which are seeing much greater spread of the virus.