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Summit County Public Health Recommends Remote Classes For Students

Summit County Public Health (SCPH) on Monday recommended the county’s schools start the 2020-21 academic year with online learning. [Google]
Summit County Public Health building in Akron, Ohio.

Updated: 2:24 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10, 2020

Summit County Public Health (SCPH) on Monday recommended the county’s schools start the 2020-21 academic year with online learning because it poses the lowest risk for spreading the coronavirus.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is evidence which suggests that reopening schools may be low risk in communities with low COVID-19 transmission rates,”  SCPH wrote in the recommendation notice. “At this time, Summit County, Ohio is not experiencing low transmission rates.”

SCPH cited several data points justifying its recommendation, including the county’s increase in daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in July and evidence that the majority of those cases were the result of community spread.

“The novel COVID-19 virus continues to have large community spread and put many individuals at risk,” Donna Skoda, Summit County Health Commissioner told reporters on a conference call Monday.

In its recommendation, SCPH ranked remote learning as the top recommendation for its school districts.

“We put that as the preferred option from a disease transmission and spread perspective,” Skoda said. “It does not mean that that perhaps is the best option for a district that can make any number of accommodations that can keep the children safe.”

SCPH said a hybrid model that combines in-person and online education is the next safest approach, and ranked full-time in-person learning as the most dangerous way to resume education. 

Skoda also encouraged schools to enforce mask wearing and social distancing requirements if they do resume in-person education. She said were districts to opt for in-person classes, an increase in COVID-19 cases is likely to follow. 

“Every time we’ve released a layer of a shutdown we have seen a spike in cases so I have no reason to believe this would be any different, particularly the way children like to engage with each other and are touchy and want to be together and run and hold hands,” Skoda said. 

Skoda said Summit County has 271 confirmed COVID-19 cases among people younger than 19 years old, but noted testing is limited for children, making it difficult to know the true number of children and teenagers who have contracted the virus.

She also said SCPH has investigated several outbreaks connected to sports practices and other athletic events like dance or cheerleading. 

Last month, SCPH recommended local schools postpone the start of fall sports until Oct. 1. That recommendation was an attempt to layer the number of risks kids take, prioritizing the return to school, and it’s a recommendation the county said it will revisit over time. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is also expected to make a recommendation regarding high school athletics and other extracurricular activities.

Ohio’s Public Health Advisory System as of Aug. 6 listed Summit County as Level 2, or orange, which urges people to “exercise high degree of caution,” but is an improvement over the county’s July Level 3 status.

Annie Wu is the deputy editor of digital content for Ideastream Public Media.