COVID-19 in schools: details on the ODH prevention guide

By: - July 30, 2021 12:45 am

A teacher walks among the the masked students sitting in a socially distanced classroom session. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images).

Coming alongside renewed calls from the CDC for mask wearing, even by the vaccinated, the Ohio Department of Health laid out ways in which K-12 schools should be preventing COVID-19 in the upcoming school year.

With no requirement for masks included in the recommendations, announced on Monday, the Ohio Department of Health is counting on partnerships with local health departments, awareness of the science of COVID-19 and promotion of the vaccine as strategies to keep spread of the pandemic out of schools this fall.

Vaccination is emphasized in the guidance as “the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination among eligible students as well as teachers, staff and household members is one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely conduct in-person learning and allow safe participation in extracurricular activities and sports,” the ODH stated in the recommendations.

Children younger than 12 still don’t have that level of protection against COVID-19, which obligates adults and children older than 12 to vaccinate to protect everyone, according to pediatricians who joined ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff in announcing the guidance earlier this week.

COVID-19 vaccinations, like masks, won’t be required by the state, but the ODH gave school districts strategies to promote vaccination, including considering pop-up clinics in conjunction with school activities, offering flexible sick leave options for employees to get vaccinated or excused absences for students to get their shot, and offering vaccinations as part of summer medical physicals and other immunizations.

The state requires other immunizations, such as diptheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP); measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), and varicella (chickenpox), to attend school.

Ohio Revised Code has said since 2015 that no student can stay in school for more than 14 days “unless the pupil presents written evidence” of their immunization. If a student isn’t immunized, a parent can provide a statement saying they can’t be immunized for religious reasons or “reasons of conscience,” or a physician’s statement that the immunization isn’t medically recommended.

The guidance for the upcoming school year recommends unvaccinated individuals wear masks while indoors and in crowded settings “where physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

For those districts not opting to require masks, parents will still have the option to have their children wear masks while in school or participating in school activities.

– ODH guidance on K-12 schools

The health department said mask use is not necessary outdoors, however, they acknowledge the CDC recommendation that in areas of substantial-to-high transmission, unvaccinated people should wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings.

The CDC just announced an update to their mask recommendations, saying new evidence shows even the vaccinated could be carriers of enough of the virus to infect others, and therefore should return to wearing masks in public indoor spaces.

A spokesperson for the ODH said the department would “await any revised recommendations from the CDC and review them at that time.”

School buses and public transportation still require mask-wearing per the CDC, the state health department said, regardless of vaccination status.

Because of layered health protection strategies like vaccination and mask-wearing, the state is not recommending that unvaccinated students who have been exposed to COVID-19 in school setting quarantine or isolate, as long as students were wearing masks and using prevention strategies.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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