A “perfect storm” of rapidly rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, which have reached levels not seen since February just as children are returning to school, is threatening to disrupt in-person learning plans if kids do not get vaccinated or attend class wearing masks, Gov. Mike DeWine warned on Tuesday.
DeWine called a press conference Tuesday to inform parents, educators and school administrators of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Ohio. But the governor stopped short of issuing new mandates for kindergarten through 12th grade schools, many of which intend to start the school year by making masks and vaccines optional.
There were 3,200 newly reported coronavirus cases in Ohio on Tuesday, marking the third time in less than a week that new daily cases surpassed 3,000.
Statewide, there are now 1,500 Ohioans hospitalized with coronavirus disease, the highest since February thanks to the highly contagious Delta variant.
The situation poses a direct threat to the ability of schools to conduct in-person classes, as children and adolescents make up roughly 16% of new cases, according to Ohio Department of Health data.
Schools were able to safely resume in-person learning last fall thanks to mitigation measures like universal masking and social distancing, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommend regardless of a person’s vaccination status. But “we have no experience with kids in school without wearing masks,” DeWine said.
The rapid increase in coronavirus cases caused by the Delta variant will make it “difficult to keep it out of the classroom,” DeWine said. “It will be impossible once it’s in the classroom to keep it from spreading unless the students were masked or vaccinated.”
DeWine added, “Our children simply cannot afford another disruptive school year.”
Children are less likely to become severely ill than adults, but they’re not invincible, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health. Kids who contract the virus can become seriously ill, and children’s hospitals continue to admit previously healthy children into intensive care, Vanderhoff said.
Only 11.6% of Fulton County youth 19 and under have started their vaccines, while 44.2% of county residents overall are at least partially vaccinated, according to ODH data. Kids 12 and older can currently receive the vaccine.
Fulton County schools are planning to keep masks optional now that Ohio’s mask mandate has expired.