DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — With a record surge of new cases and hospitalizations in the Buckeye State, Governor Mike DeWine is recommending that schools mandate masks when students return from the holiday break.

During a press briefing Wednesday, after reporting the state’s highest COVID-19 hospitalization count, DeWine said, “We all share the same goals. We all want our kids in school.”

His recommendation comes after Ohio’s major hospital systems sent a letter to school superintendents, administrators and board members asking to impose mask mandates for kids coming back to class next week.

The letter read in part, “Our healthcare system already is taxed, with one out of every four patients in the hospital with COVID-19. With omicron spreading quickly through Ohio, we need everyone’s help to make it through the coming weeks.”

“This is an unprecedented time. The volume of patients coming down with COVID is higher than at any other time during this pandemic,” said the chief medical officer at Dayton Children’s, Doctor Adam Mezoff.

“At least until we get through this horrible surge that we’re in, the schools need to require masks. Masks work. They slow the spread,” DeWine said Wednesday.

Doctor Mezoff assured parents that kids will adjust. He said we can make it to the other side of the pandemic if we all come together.

“The strength of having a group of people aligned and dedicated to solving a problem is immense. As a community, we need to all get together, all mask up, and do what it takes. We can move mountains together,” he said.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, as of December 16 masks were optional in just over half of Ohio’s more than 600 public school districts, representing more than 70 percent of all public school students in the state. They were required for all students in around 40 percent of districts.

Miami Valley schools districts like Trotwood-Madison City Schools has remained masked through the entire school year.

“We’ve had fewer instances of our students needing to be out. That’s not to say we haven’t had any, but we really do believe that’s kept our numbers down,” said superintendent Reva Cosby. “Data has come out and said students do better when they’re in school. I do think it’s very important, and I hope people take it seriously.”

Health leaders said it’s important to note that the type of masks kids wear is also important. Studies show that cloth masks aren’t as effective against the omicron variant. Surgical, or disposable masks are preferred, and in crowded spaces KN95 or N95 masks are recommended.

“We know now that three-layer masks, not so much cloth masks, are very effective at slowing down the amount of virus coming out in particles breathing out, but also it helps prevent some from coming toward you,” said Chris Cook, assistant health commissioner for the Clark County Combined Health District.