© 2022 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
IPM Pinwheel Banner for Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

All Students Should Wear Masks Says Ohio Governor As COVID-19 Cases Surge

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine addresses parents and school officials on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 about keeping kids in school at the same time that COVID-19 is spreading at a rapid rate in the state. Ohio’s cases and hospitalizations are both at their highest level since February. [Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine addresses parents and school officials on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 about keeping kids in school at the same time that COVID-19 is spreading at a rapid rate in the state. Ohio’s cases and hospitalizations are both at their highest level since February. [Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says COVID-19 spread has changed dramatically in the state.

“Today in Ohio, we are facing a perfect storm,” DeWine said in a Tuesday press conference. “Just as our kids are back in school, the new delta variant is sweeping across our state, taking direct aim at all those who are unvaccinated.”

The governor is calling on parents to get all eligible kids vaccinated or have them wear a mask in class. Currently, only 35 percent of Ohio students age 12 to 17 are vaccinated. 

All three COVID-19 vaccines protect well against the delta variant, health officials say – but many young children cannot yet get the shots. Children over the age of 12 are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, while those 18 and over can get the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots.

While the state will not mandate masks in schools, DeWine is encouraging districts to require children to wear them to curb the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which is driving the state’s surge in COVID-19 cases.

If more children do not get vaccinated, and if masks are not worn during the school day, students missing school due to getting sick or having to quarantine will be inevitable, DeWine added.

This will not be like the previous school year when masks were required and Ohio schools saw a relatively low number of cases, he said.

“With the delta variant producing so many cases today, it will be very difficult to keep it out of the classroom, and it will be impossible once it’s in the classroom to keep it from spreading unless the students wear a mask or are vaccinated,” DeWine said. “Our children can simply not afford another disruptive school year.”

DeWine said at this point, it is up to school officials to decide whether to require masks, and parents must make individual choices about their children.

State officials will likely not introduce any official mandates due to Senate Bill 22,which allows lawmakers to strike down any future health orders or mandates. The law took effect earlier this summer after legislators overrode the governor’s veto.

In states where the school year has already started, schools have already had large numbers of students out quarantining, or were forced to return to remote learning due to surges in COVID-19, DeWine said.

While young children are typically less likely than adults to develop a serious case of the virus, hospitals are seeing an increase in children becoming severely ill from COVID-19, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). The delta variant causes more severe illness than the original virus strain, he said.

“Delta spreads like wildfire, and it clearly seeks out anyone who is unvaccinated,” Vanderhoff said. “Our children’s hospitals continue to see tragic cases of previously healthy children struck down by this virus and now requiring intensive medical care.”

All but three Ohio counties are experiencing “high” COVID-19 transmission, meaning they have reported more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other three counties have been designated as having “substantial” transmission – the second-highest level of spread.

On Tuesday, Ohio reported 3,235 cases – the third time in the past week the state has seen more than 3,000 cases in a single day, according to ODH data. The state’s overall case rate has risen to 236 cases per 100,000 residents this week – up from just 17 in early July, ODH reports.

Ohio’s cases and hospitalizations are both at their highest level since February, DeWine said. Currently, 1,571 are people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, he said.

anna.huntsman@ideastream.org | 216-916-6058