Why Ohio is changing its quarantine guidance for K-12 schools

Posted at 10:02 PM, Dec 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-30 23:21:19-05

MASON, Ohio — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and the leader of the state health department cites several new studies saying students and teachers won't have to quarantine if they've come in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive as long as they wear a mask and practice social distancing.

"Schools have been doing a great job implementing measures with consistent masking and social distancing," said DeWine on Wednesday.

The new guidance for Ohio goes against what the CDC has recommended for months, that those who come in contact with someone who has COVID-19 in the classroom should quarantine for 14 days

Mason City Schools Superintendent Jonathan Cooper has seen classrooms operating amid the COVID-19 pandemic firsthand.

“When students are separated out and at home, it's hard for our teachers to connect with them while they're trying to teach in person students,” he said. “It's hard for our students at home to feel a sense of belonging.”

So far, he hasn’t seen community spread of coronavirus in the classroom setting.

“Quarantining kids and putting them out for 14 days at a time when they're healthy is a big stress on the system,” he said.

He’s hopeful that with new research, it could relieve the stress on families, teachers and students struggling with quarantines.

“Our argument is to take a closer look at the science behind that,” Cooper said.

Ohio’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said that’s what the state has done. He pointed to two new studies, one done by researchers on the Ohio Schools COVID-19 Evaluation Team, that show the classroom might be safer than first thought.

“It shows the close contacts of children with COVID-19 were more likely to be family members and less likely to be classmates,” said Vanderhoff.

In one of the studies, which tested 728 children in seven school districts between Nov. 10 and Dec. 18, 524 children in a classroom were noted to be in "close contact" by CDC standards with someone with COVID-19. Others in the study were either further away in the same classroom or outside the classroom.

“There was no discernible difference in incidence rate in the exposed students, and the students who weren’t exposed,” in the two studies, according to Vanderhoff.

It’s validation for something Cooper has seen for months now, and a welcome relief for school districts who have had trouble with staffing due to quarantines.

“Now we have the data to tell us that school is the safest place for students even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“Their results support what we've seen and hearing anecdotally in schools,” DeWine said of the studies. “As long as students are wearing masks, masks compliant, and do the best they can with social distancing. They don't have an increased risk of catching COVID-19 by a student who may have had it.”

Students will not be able to participate in after-school activities including sports if they've come in contact with someone who's COVID-19 positive.