A statewide initiative to better understand how effective schools are at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms will kick off on Monday and will include data gathered from nine districts throughout the state, including three from the Greater Cincinnati region.
The initiative hinges on voluntary testing performed at the districts, which includes Mason City Schools, Lakota Local Schools and Princeton City Schools. Starting Monday, students at these districts who are found to have been in close contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19 will not be required to quarantine for 14 days if they take a rapid COVID-19 test and test negative.
Leaders at local districts said they think this option can help prevent students from being taken out of school needlessly, and that early data has indicated the virus is not spreading between students while they're in class.
"We've had over 1,000 students quarantined and none of those students have shown symptoms or been sick," said Jonathan Cooper, superintendent for Mason City Schools.
School leaders at both Mason and Lakota districts said a big concern amid the pandemic is how many students and staff are forced to quarantine under the current safety standards. The quarantines have caused staffing problems for the districts and has forced many students to miss in-person lessons while studying at home.
"We've not seen that that 14 day magic number makes a difference," said Matt Miller, superintendent for Lakota Local Schools. "We're wondering, as long as it's healthy and safe, if that quarantine timeline can be shortened."
The initiative is entirely voluntary and requires the approval of parents before any student can opt in to the rapid testing protocols. Tests are designed to determine whether a student is infected with COVID-19 in around 20 minutes, something that can help keep students who test negative from an unnecessary quarantine, district leaders said.
"Coronavirus is not going away quickly, so we need to learn how to get kids back in school," said Cooper.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said the initiative is also designed to determine how much transmission of the COVID-19 virus is actually happening in Ohio schools, so the state can plan and respond accordingly as cases and hospitalizations continue to spike statewide.