COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Class is back in session at Ohio’s K-12 schools, and the state has already seen more COVID-19 cases among students and staff members than this time last year.
The Ohio Department of Health has reported 17,735 cases of COVID-19 so far this school year, according to new weekly data published Thursday. Last school year, Ohio didn’t eclipse 17,000 school cases until late November.
Cases reported to ODH this week reflect the week ending the previous Sunday. Infections were caught in and out of school. Learn more about the data in the dropdown below:
1,018 (37%) of 2,765 schools, districts, private schools, vocational schools, preschools and other non-college institutions that the state tracks have reported cases this fall.
14,551 (82%) of Ohio’s school cases are students and 3,184 (18%) are staff members, which include teachers, administrators, coaches and support staff. Last school year, students were roughly 2 in 3 cases, and staff were 1 in 3.
Cincinnati Public Schools, a district of more than 34,000 students, leads the state in cases with 326, well above second-place Toledo City Schools at 183. Three Columbus area school districts are in the top nine.
Quarantine and mask guidelines, explained
In the absence of a statewide mask order, individual school choices vary throughout the state. The message from Ohio’s top health official, though, is that masking remains one of the top ways to protect students from COVID-19.
“So many of our schools that have opened the school year and have not taken our guidance to heart and had comprehensive plans for COVID safety that include masking and social distancing,” state health director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff told reporters Thursday, “are finding large numbers of their student body and staff requiring quarantine.”
According to ODH’s guidelines, quarantine is not needed if a school requires masks for all students and staff; has classroom desks at least three feet apart; and has other prevention policies, like cleaning protocols, ventilation strategies and identifying people with COVID-19 symptoms.
Fully vaccinated students and adults can avoid quarantine if they wear a mask indoors for 14 days after exposure to COVID-19 or have a negative test three to five days after exposure. The same is true for unvaccinated people if the person who was sick was wearing a mask consistently.
But if the student or staff member exposed to COVID-19 is unvaccinated and the school does not have layers of COVID-19 protection (masking, distancing, etc.), they should quarantine for at home for at least seven days.
“(In-school education) is important for students’ academic development, for their personal development, for their emotional wellbeing,” Vanderhoff said. “So, therefore our objective is to keep our kids in school, in person, learning as much as possible.”
Dr. Joseph Gostaldo, an infectious disease specialist at OhioHealth in Columbus, echoed the state health director.
“There is no physiological harm for a child to wear a mask,” he told reporters. “I actually think it’s going to be more harmful for them to have remote learning, or, God forbid, they require a hospitalization of COVID-19.”