Children’s hospitals urge schools to mandate masks

Gov. Mike DeWine and leaders of Ohio’s children’s hospitals on Tuesday made a direct appeal to every K-12 school superintendent and school board in the state to mandate masks for all students.

Dayton Children’s Hospital CEO Deborah Feldman echoed other hospital leaders, saying the surge of children with COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses has left her hospital with little capacity left to treat children with any medical concern.

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“For a long time this was really perceived as a disease that did not impact our kids in a significant way. That belief has really been shattered over the last couple months,” Feldman said. “About 25% of the (COVID) cases in Ohio are kids. We’re seeing demand in our emergency department and our access points at unprecedented levels.”

Feldman said other than special beds for newborn intensive care and behavioral health cases, Dayton Children’s only had two beds available in the hospital Tuesday. She said Dayton Children’s has averaged 11-17 child COVID patients in the hospital each day for the past few weeks.

All of the 12 largest school districts in the Dayton region are now requiring masks — 11 of them for all grades, and Springboro for grades K-6. Troy was the last district to make that decision, at a Monday night school board meeting where the vast majority of residents who spoke were against the mask mandate.

But several smaller school districts locally have not adopted mask mandates. And in the week of Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, more than 1,000 students in the Dayton area’s K-12 schools tested positive for new cases of COVID-19, according to Ohio Department of Health data.

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Paula Grieb, chief nursing officer at ProMedica Children’s Hospital in Toledo, said that every emergency room in Lucas County was at capacity simultaneously Monday night, a situation she said was unprecedented and lasted for over eight hours.

“We know a path forward here to alleviate (this). We are asking for assistance from our schools and our communities,” Grieb said. “If you have a child old enough to get vaccinated, please do so. As an adult, we should all be vaccinated too. And we know that masking works. … It’s vitally important that we do these things to protect our children.”

Patty Manning, chief of staff at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, cited an analysis of seven school districts in her region. She said the study determined that students in a partially masked district — requiring masks just in grades K-6 — were almost twice as likely to test positive for COVID than students in a fully masked district.

DeWine said 54.4% of Ohio public school students are currently required to wear a mask, significantly up from the start of school year, and continuing to rise, as schools such as Troy and Northmont have expanded their mask policies in the past 48 hours.

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DeWine repeated a common refrain — that it is important for K-12 students’ education and health that they continue in-person classes. Under existing quarantine rules, unvaccinated students can stay in school even after close contact with COVID if they are masked at the time.

Asked why he didn’t just issue a statewide school mask mandate if he believed it was the right thing to do, DeWine said legislative leaders have told him they would immediately overturn such an order. So he said he decided to appeal to the schools themselves through the medical experts around the state.

Over a two-week period that ended Sept. 4, DeWine said school-aged children averaged 909 COVID cases per 100,000 people, compared to 561 cases per 100,000 for all other Ohioans. And he said this past week, there was a 44% increase in cases among school-aged children and only a 17% increase for all others.

Feldman said the surge in COVID and other respiratory illnesses can cause such a backup at Dayton Children’s, that some parents give up and leave rather than waiting.

ExploreOver 1,000 local K-12 kids got COVID in one week

She said in normal conditions, Dayton Children’s doesn’t see that happen. But one day last week they had 40 families check in, but then leave without their child being seen.

“Even if you don’t think your child is going to get sick from COVID, we want to help people understand, when our emergency departments and other access points are this busy, it prevents our staff from addressing other needs that come into our emergency department — other respiratory diseases, or concussions from Friday night football, asthma attacks, injuries,” Feldman said. “We owe it to our kids to make this happen. We urge all of our superintendents, all of our school boards, to hear this data and require masks in schools for a period of time. It doesn’t have to be forever.”

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