COLUMBUS, Ohio — DeWine pleaded with schools and parents to make the choice he won't mandate himself: to send children to school this fall wearing a mask as the delta variant spikes cases across the state.
"With the delta variant producing so many cases, 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 masks or are vaccinated," DeWine said.
Of the 3,235 state coronavirus cases reported Tuesday, DeWine said 1,571 people are hospitalized and 464 are in the ICU; the highest numbers for cases and hospitalizations since February.
Ohio's seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has more than doubled over the past two weeks. The state went from 1,197.43 new cases per day on Aug. 1 to 2,567.71 new cases per day on Aug. 15, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
DeWine also said all of Ohio's 88 counties are now areas of high transmission for the virus.
The difference between this school year and the last, DeWine emphasized, is the delta variant. The higher viral load of the virus makes it significantly more contagious than the COVID Ohioans battled last year. While the vaccine is effective in slowing the spread and lessening the chance of death from the virus, it's still not available to kids under 12.
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said some children are becoming seriously ill from the virus.
"While children are certainly less likely than adults to get severely ill from COVID-19 and the delta variant, they're not invincible," 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."
Republican state representative Jennifer Gross, from West Chester, announced Friday she will co-sponsor legislation that would prevent schools from requiring its students to wear masks. She directly cited a recent decision from Lakota schools to require masks district-wide.
“It should be up to parental discretion whether their child should be masked at school or not,” Gross said in a release.
When asked about Gross' push to block schools from requiring masks, DeWine said the legislation would be a "serious mistake."
"I think that would be a mistake to tell schools that they can't do what the school officials, the families, the parents, the school board thinks is necessary to protect the students in the classroom," he said. "Particularly when the evidence is very, very strong that wearing masks, for example in the classroom, has worked exceedingly well."
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb left the decision of masks in schools up to each individual school district. He said that having students wear masks is a wise choice when warranted.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order Tuesday, August 10 requiring all students and staff to wear masks indoors in schools, regardless of vaccination status.
"There is no other option," he said during a press conference. "This is absolutely what we have to do."