COLUMBUS – The Ohio Department of Health this week recommended but did not mandate mask wearing for the unvaccinated in K-12 schools when the new school year begins.
The guidance released by the department on Tuesday strongly recommends consistent mask-wearing for individuals who are not yet fully vaccinated. Governor Mike DeWine also reiterated at a press conference on Monday the importance of mask wearing.
DeWine pointed out that last year with children masked in schools, COVID-19 usually did not spread between them, even when they were not at least six feet apart.
“The evidence is just overwhelming,”said DeWine. “I desperately want to see our kids in school this year. We do not want to go through a year when they’re in and out of school. We do not want to go through a year when many of them are remote.”
His comments at the press conference show he did not feel he had a choice in issuing a mandate.
“Let me be quite candid,” said DeWine. “I do not believe that I have the authority today to mandate that.”
When asked why, he said, “I could make a smart comment, but I won’t.” Earlier this year, the General Assembly overrode DeWine’s veto of Senate Bill 22, which allows them to reject any health orders from the governor or health department.
“There’s not the appetite in this state today for that kind of a mandate,” DeWine said. “We did last year for schools and it worked very well. There’s not the appetite in this state for that. I do not effectively have the ability to do that. But what I do have the ability to do and what our health department has the ability to do is to tell what the facts are.“
COVID-19 vaccinations for staff and eligible students were recommended as well in the health department’s guidance. Also recommended was layering prevention measures that include good ventilation, regular cleaning, handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick.
“While there are no mandates associated with this guidance, we believe that the recommendations we are issuing are essential to the health of Ohio’s youth and the success of the coming school year,” Ohio Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Bruce Vanderhoff said during a Monday press conference. “The safety of Ohio’s children is paramount, and the preventive measures that schools take will help protect Ohio’s students.”
Also this week, the CDC updated its guidance for fully vaccinated people due to the Delta variant.
CDC now recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place, according to the agency.