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Health & Science

Ohio changes COVID policy for reporting cases in schools and might make other changes soon

 Masked students sit in a classroom at Worthington Kilbourne High School near Columbus in March 2021
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Masked students sit in a classroom at Worthington Kilbourne High School near Columbus in March 2021. The Ohio Department in Health has decided it's more important to notify the public of clusters of COVID-19 cases rather than notify the parents of students of individual cases.

The Ohio Department of Health has changed the way K-12 schools should notify parents about COVID cases in their buildings. ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff says it is not worthwhile for schools to alert parents of individual cases of COVID in classrooms or buildings anymore.

“The quick spread of the omicron variant and its rapid clinical course, in fact, have made universal contact tracing case investigation and exposure notification impractical and less impactful than taking a more targeted approach,” Vanderhoff said.

From now on, he says local health departments will focus on notifying the public of clusters of cases. And he’s recommending schools continue to require masks be worn inside buildings. But more than half of Ohio’s school districts currently do not require all of their K-12 students and staff to do that. According to the Ohio Department of Education's website, 47.9% of Ohio schools required all of their students to wear masks inside buildings.

 Dashboard on mask policies of school districts as of Jan 20, 2022
Ohio Department of Education
/
Ohio Department of Education
Dashboard on mask policies of school districts as of Jan 20.

Another policy involving schools might soon change too

Earlier this month, the ODH said it had changed its priority for the distribution of rapid tests. The agency said it would send rapid COVID tests first to K-12 schools instead of libraries and health departments as it had previously. But Vanderhoff says the agency is now considering changing that.

Vanderhoff says the people most at risk of serious effects of COVID are unvaccinated or older Ohioans and people with underlying health conditions. Yet rapid tests that could be used by communities to prevent spread to those populations remain in short supply. So Vanderhoff says the agency is considering shifting its priority for rapid tests away from K-12 schools.

“We will pivot, as needed, to make sure our limited supply is going to best effect,” Vanderhoff says.

Vanderhoff says the goal was to keep schools open and kids in them. But he says given the shifts by the virus, it may be better if tests are sent to libraries and health departments as it was at the beginning of January. Vanderhoff says the state is expecting 480,000 rapid tests that were ordered by the ODH for the month of January to arrive soon.

There's been a shortage of rapid tests nationwide as demand has increased since the Omicron variant took hold shortly before the holidays in December 2021.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.