State officials on both sides of the Ohio River on Monday issued health recommendations as school districts prepare to return to in-person learning next month.
The primary themes encouraged mask requirements for certain populations while indoors and that everyone should get vaccinated.
Masks requirements recommended but not mandated
“Masks will not only keep kids healthy, kids who cannot be vaccinated and, therefore, at-risk, but it will keep people in their lives who might not be able to be vaccinated... it will keep them healthy, as well,” said Dr. Patty Manning-Courtney, a physician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
The Ohio Department of Health reported Monday that the number of cases in Ohio climbed from 27 per 100,000 to 48.8 per 100,000.
Both states left all final decisions up to local school boards.
ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said all school districts should require all unvaccinated students and staff to wear masks indoors but should leave the choice optional for those who are fully vaccinated.
Kentucky's Gov. Andy Beshear took his recommendations one step further, however, recommending that all adults and all students wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
"We have now had 30 straight days of an increase in positivity rate," Beshear said. "School districts wishing to optimize safety and minimize risk of educational and athletic disruption should require all students and all adults to wear a mask while in the classroom and other indoor settings."
Beshear would not rule out the possibility of upgrading these recommendations to a mandate if a surge in cases occurs but emphasized optimism that that won't be necessary.
Whenever we've had an outbreak in schools, the district has done the right thing," Beshear said.
At its July 19 meeting, the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education agreed to amend the district’s COVID-19 safety protocols that were implemented at the onset of the 2020-2021 school year.
The following updates are effective for the CPS 2021-2022 school year:
No longer required:
- Temperature checks at building entrances
- Staggered bus arrival and departure
- Field trips
- Visitors and volunteers in school buildings and must follow all safety protocols
- Work-related travel
- Shared materials among students, such as crayons, pencils, etc.
- Three-feet minimum social distancing during meals when masks are removed
The following items will be discussed further at the next policy committee meeting:
- Quarantine requirements
- Masking requirements in school and on yellow buses
Kenton County Schools in Northern Kentucky said last week that masks would be recommended but not required in their classrooms.
A federal mandate states all people riding buses — including school buses — are required to wear a mask.
Health officials pointed to the delta variant as part of the rationale behind the recommendations.
“All signs point to this increase in cases being a result of the Delta variant,” Vanderhoff.
He recommends all eligible students and staff get the vaccine, saying those who are unvaccinated should wear a mask inside schools and social distance at least three feet.
“Weather permitting, consider outdoor activities and classes,” said Dr. Vanderhoff.
In addition to best cleaning and hand sanitizing practices, he said ODH recommends schools open doors and windows when safe. He said windows on buses should be open when safe.
His team also recommends in-person learning to give more children internet access and safe environments. However, the team says vaccines and masks will be key in preventing school closures.
“I don't want to see the day when someone under age 12, who can't be vaccinated, was infected because someone in their life chose not to be vaccinated or wear a mask,” said Dr. Manning-Courtney.
The health department says it is up to local leaders to set each district's policy. These are recommendations, not mandates.
WCPO has reached out to local school officials across the Tri-State for reaction to their states' recommendations and was waiting to hear back Monday afternoon.
WCPO will update this story.