DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Monday the Ohio Department of Health announced new recommendations for the upcoming school year.

The state medical director says this guidance should apply to students and school staff, but it is not a mandate. The approach is multi-pronged: everyone eligible to be vaccinated should be vaccinated, and everyone not vaccinated should wear a mask, including indoors.

Dr. Patty Manning-Courtney of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital says, “There’s a critical group of our population, kids under age 12, who can’t be protected, who can’t access that tool. So they really depend on the rest of us to access that tool.”.

The tool is the vaccine, and medical experts say it’s the best way to have a normal school year. Dr. Shefali Mahesh of Akron Children’s Hospital says, “We have a tool, let’s use it.”

With the state’s coronavirus case rate nearly doubled this week due to the Delta variant, ODH is now recommending everyone who is unvaccinated -including children under 12- wear masks in school.

Dr. Mahesh says, “So masks protect us, they also allow the transmission to be interrupted.”

The doctors acknowledge many parents and children may be frustrated, but they say adults can model good behavior and attitudes for children to follow. Dr. Manning-Courtney says, “We sometimes over-speak to kids and get very long lengthy rationales. A lot of kids don’t need that, they just need to hear this is the right thing to do right now for you, for your mom and dad, for your teachers.”

Doctors warn to not minimize the effects of the virus just because children typically do not get as sick as adults. Dr. Manning-Courtney says, “The risk of course without masks is that we’ll see outbreaks. We’ll see kids who need to be quarantined.”

Many children have gotten sick, and many have contracted the MIS-C illness that attacks different parts of the body. Dr. Manning-Courtney says, “I don’t want to see that first child get COVID that could’ve been prevented by somebody being vaccinated in their life or them wearing a mask.”

Dr. Mahesh says she is shifting away from calling the coronavirus a pandemic and instead is calling it a “vaccine-preventable disease”.

ODH also recommends layering prevention measures that include good ventilation, regular cleaning, handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick. 

ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff says, “I think the recommendations we’re giving are pretty clear, and offer the flexibility because they are recommendations to the local communities to take this guidance and apply it as best they can.”

In a conference call Monday, ODH and participating doctors said keeping the structure of in person learning is critical for students. ODH says the best way to do it is by vaccinating everyone who’s eligible and masking anyone who’s not vaccinated. Dr. Vanderhoff says, “Being in person with teachers and other students is also an important factor for the emotional health of many students.”

Dr. Mahesh say there’s been an increase in obesity among children ages 5-9, and one in five teens had to complete their homework on a smartphone when not in school. She adds connecting with students and gauging their needs is best done in person. “Those things are very difficult to do through a computer screen.”

After students wore masks last school year, the doctors know many parents may be frustrated with the prospect of another year of masking. Dr. Manning-Courtney says, “Our kids look at us as the adults in their lives. If we’re calm and confident, they can be calm and confident.”

Dr. Vanderhoff says ODH reached out to several stakeholders to help craft the guidance and says he’s not aware of any pushback yet. “While there are no mandates associated with this guidance, we believe the recommendations we are issuing or essential for the health of Ohio’s youth, and the success of the coming school year.”