COLUMBUS, Ohio — Schools can let students exposed to COVID-19 stay in class if they wear a mask, even if the student is unvaccinated and wasn't masked during the exposure, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff announced Monday.
What You Need To Know
- The Ohio Department of Health announced a major change to school quarantines after exposure
- The state's new guidance states that exposed students can wear a mask and stay in school
- Students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities should test twice in addition to masking
Effective immediately, schools can adopt “Mask to Stay” / “Test to Play” policies, meaning that testing negative will be a requirement to play sports and extracurricular activities following school exposures, but not a requirement to continue attending in-person classes. The policy also applies to staff, Vanderhoff said.
“Quarantine, in the face of high rates of transmission and hospitalization, like we’re seeing now, remains an important part of our public health response to COVID-19, but out of school quarantine has the unintended consequence of reducing in-school learning, and can place added strains on our students, our parents, schools and our local health departments,” Vanderhoff said.
The guidance is only for exposures that occur in school settings or during school-related activities. Students exposed outside of school should still quarantine, Vanderhoff said.
The announcement comes after a pilot program, which studied modified-quarantine protocols in Warren County school districts in the last four weeks. Vanderhoff said the study showed that schools could safely switch to the new protocols.
Prior to the state’s announcement, schools in a number of other parts of Ohio, including Medina, Knox, Madison and Tuscarawas counties, had already stopped requiring quarantines for unvaccinated, unmasked students who were exposed in the classroom and agreed to follow the districts’ protocols, which varied by school.
Ohio’s new guidance states that exposed students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities should get tested after the initial exposure and then again five to seven days after the exposure.
Scott DiMauro, president of the largest teacher’s union in Ohio, the Ohio Education Association, said the change could make a positive impact toward keeping students learning in the classroom, but he also said the union has concern that if schools drop mask requirements the result could be more cases.
“We’re going to watch what happens with these new guidelines carefully,” he said. “If this helps keep schools open, great, we just want to make sure we're not letting our guard down when it comes to masking.
COVID-19 continues to present risks to teachers in Ohio, DiMauro said, noting that he is attending a funeral tomorrow for Kings High School Spanish teacher Jorge Gonzalez, 56, who died last week, being fully vaccinated.
It’s too early to predict if there will be widespread adoption of the new quarantine guidelines by school districts in the state, DiMauro said. As of Thursday, state data showed 327 districts were mask-optional for all students, while 241 required masks for all students and 41 required masks for some students.
Vanderhoff stressed that school districts are not required to adopt the new option and that students who are exposed can still opt to quarantine at home if they choose.
He said the Ohio pilot program and evidence from other regions indicates that few students who are exposed in school settings end up contracting COVID-19.
Those who opt to remain in school after exposure must wear a mask for the duration of the quarantine period, and they must self-monitor for any symptoms. Students and staff should quarantine immediately if they become symptomatic.
“I think what's important here is that we've identified a safe pathway for assuring that our students can remain safe, remain protected and yet not be deprived of in-school instruction,” Vanderhoff said.