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Ohio Health Officials Outline Recommendations for Mask-Wearing in Schools This Fall

Fifth graders wear face masks are seated at proper social distancing spacing during a music class at the Milton Elementary School in Rye, N.Y. in this May 18, 2021 file photo.
Mary Altaffer
Fifth graders wear face masks are seated at proper social distancing spacing during a music class at the Milton Elementary School in Rye, N.Y. in this May 18, 2021 file photo.

Citing a sharp spike in cases linked to the delta coronavirus variant, the Ohio Department of Health is issuing new guidance that recommends unvaccinated staff and students wear masks when classes resume for the fall term.

The department’s medical director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said the recommendation is not a requirement.

“While there are not mandates associated with this guidance, we believe the recommendations we are issuing are essential to the health of Ohio’s youth and the success of the coming school year,” he said in a Monday morning virtual press conference.

Vanderhoff said the new guidance would be posted on the Department of Health website no later than Tuesday. He said state health officials had reached out to a number of stakeholders to develop this guidance, which offers two avenues of protection against COVID-19:

072621 Shefali Mahesh ACH.jpg
Zoom/Ohio Department of Health
Akron Children's Hospital pediatrician Dr. Shefali Mahesh speaks about the importance of students being able to attend school in-person this fall during an Ohio Department of Health virtual news conference Monday.

  1. The vaccine. Speaking during the virtual news conference, Akron Children's Hospital pediatrician Dr. Shefali Mahesh said she's begun referring to COVID-19 as a "vaccine-preventable illness." Vanderhoff said vaccinated individuals are very well-protected from both getting COVID-19 and sharing it with others.
  2. Masks and layered safety precautions. Vanderhoff said for those not vaccinated, including children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible for a vaccine, masks are strongly recommended as are the other layered safety measures schools implemented last year to protect students. These include distancing and sanitizing.

Last week Columbus City School leaders announced plans to have students and staff start the new school year wearing masks. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District announced a similar plan last week.

A bill from State Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware County) would ban Ohio schools from requiring masks. It has yet to have a hearing.

Last week Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill banning public schools and colleges from requiring students and staff to be vaccinated. The bill does not take effect until October, so some schools are requiring vaccines before the fall term begins. The new law also only applies to vaccines not granted full use by the Food and Drug Administration.

Watch the full briefing with recommendations here:

ODH Press Conference: COVID-19 (July 26, 2021)

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Steve Brown grew up in nearby Richwood, Ohio and now lives there with his wife and son. He started his journalism career as a weekend board operator at WOSU while majoring in journalism at Ohio State, where he also wrote for student newspaper The Lantern and co-founded the organization Students for Public Broadcasting.