Coronavirus: DeWine announces updated guidance for K-12 school reopening

The state of Ohio’s updated guidance on school reopening in the fall requires most school staff to wear face coverings and “strongly recommends” that students in grade three and higher do the same, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday.

DeWine also announced a new four-color Public Health Advisory Alert System for each Ohio county, based on several coronavirus indicators. Montgomery and Butler were two of the seven counties in the “red” level (the second-worst) based on wide community spread of the virus. No Ohio counties were in the worst — “purple” — level.

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DeWine cited a “strong consensus” from Ohio educators and parents “that our kids need to get back into the school buildings.” He also cited an American Association of Pediatrics recommendation that, given the lower COVID-19 risks for children and the developmental risks to kids from missing school are greater than the risks of COVID spread from them being in school.

DeWine said the face-covering requirement for school staff matches similar requirements for employees in other parts of the economy. That’s the only firm requirement the state is making, with schools having local control over other decisions, he said.

But DeWine urged Ohioans to take personal responsibility to fight the COVID-19, to help everyone in the state.

“We’re in this together with what each one of us does,” he said. “I think it should get people excited and say, hey, we are tougher than this. We are not going to let this happen to our state. We are not going to be Florida, we are not going to be Texas … We won round one and maybe round two, but this is a 15-round heavyweight championship, and we have to stay in there and stay punching.”

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  • On school reopening, DeWine issued "strong recommendations" on five other school guidelines, after consultation with the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Education and educators around the state.
  • Student families and school staff should "vigilantly assess for symptoms" daily, and anyone with COVID symptoms or a fever over 100 degrees should stay home. People should be sent home if they arrive at school in that condition.
  • Students and school staff should be given opportunities throughout each day to wash their hands, and schools must make hand sanitizer available in many locations around the school
  • Schools should thoroughly clean and sanitize shared surfaces regularly. DeWine said while the primary method of virus spread is through respiratory droplets from infected people, spread can happen if someone touches a surface that those droplets landed on, and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes.

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  • Schools should practice social distancing. DeWine said six-foot social distancing can prevent virus spread, and schools should do it whenever possible, but he called six feet "an aspirational goal." Most schools have said they cannot fit all students in classrooms and buses with six-foot social distancing.

DeWine said it is “not right” for him or the state health department to micromanage 5,000 schools statewide with a blanket rule, saying it’s up to each school, in working with their local health department, to manage the issue as well as they can.

  • Each school or district should implement a face coverings policy. DeWine said the state order requiring school staff to wear face coverings will have exceptions in cases wear wearing a mask would be "unsafe" or if it could "significantly interfere with the learning process."

That’s one of many decisions that will be up to local schools. DeWine said research suggests most kids in kindergarten or older can wear masks, and that some schools might set that as their expectation. But he urged schools to make common sense decisions based on individual situations.

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DeWine is working with the legislature to ensure that some of the federal CARES Act money that the state got will be made available to schools to help them with the costs of masks, sanitizer and other steps, he said. He called reopening schools a balancing act between two desires.

“We have an obligation, all of us, to educate our children and to keep them safe,” DeWine said.

Advisory system

The new Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System will be updated weekly to assess coronavirus spread and inform individuals, businesses and local officials.

“In this next phase of the pandemic, saving lives and protecting Ohioans remain our priority,” DeWine said. “We cannot move backward. Ohioans have come too far in this fight to cede ground now.”

Seven indicators will determine what level each county is at and what the risk level is.

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The seven indicators are:

  • New cases per capita
  • Sustained increase in new cases
  • Proportion of cases not congregate cases
  • Sustained increase in emergency room visits
  • Sustained increase in outpatient visits
  • Sustained increase in new coronavirus hospital admissions
  • ICU bed occupancy

Level 1, yellow, is for counties that meet 0-1 indicator; Level 2, orange, is for counties meeting 2-3 indicators; Level 3, red, is for counties meeting 4-5 indicators; Level 4, purple is for counties meeting 6-7 indicators.

Montgomery and Butler counties are in Level 3. Preble, Greene, Warren and Clark counties are in Level 2. Darke, Miami, Champaign and Shelby counties are in Level 1.

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