WEST CHESTER, Ohio — The latest surge in coronavirus cases comes as tens of thousands of students prepare to return to school.
While places like Xavier University have announced a mask mandate for the start of the spring semester, state data shows most Tri-State school districts are not requiring students to wear masks. Still, COVID-19 is impacting sporting events happening over winter break.
Lakota West High School was supposed to host two games Thursday night, but no players were on one of the courts tonight after girls varsity basketball coach Andy Fishman said someone with that program was exposed to COVID.
Fishman said his team is determined to do what it can to prevent getting COVID so no one misses a game.
"We wear our masks in the weight room, we wear our masks on the bench and we wear our masks as school," Fishman said. "So, that's our choice."
Like most school districts in the Tri-State, Lakota does not require students to wear masks, to some parents' chagrin.
"I do think students should be required to go back to school in face masks after the break given what seems to be the prolific spread of omicron," parent Keishia Barber said.
Barber watched her daughter Kaitlyn play on the Lakota West JV team Thursday. She said her daughter wears a mask at school because she feels safer with it on and believes it will protect others, including her teammates.
"I just feel like it's the responsible thing to do," Barber said.
Lakota previously required students to wear masks, but the district ended the mandate two months ago when there were far fewer cases. According to the Ohio Department of Education, only one out of five districts in Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties require all students to wear masks.
"This is the time that we would say everybody should wear a mask in school," said Dr. Patty Manning with Cincinnati Children's Hospital. "If not, we really jeopardize the progress that we've made with schools."
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But some parents and grandparents said the mixed messages on COVID and how to respond to it have convinced them mandates are insulting and not necessary.
"I say leave it up to the parents," Robert Covert said.
Covert came from Kettering to watch his granddaughter play at Lakota West. He said it is best to have her parents determine if she must wear a mask.
"What we must do is protect our children," Covert said. "If masks protect these children and it's OK with the parents, then put them on."
Lakota's goal has always been to play your best and hopefully win, but now, teams are more concerned than ever about just getting on the court.
"I'd be a happy coach if we can get all our games in this year — and that's what we're playing for," Fishman said.
The WCPO I-Team reached out to several school districts for an update on mask policies, but many offices are closed due to winter break. Sycamore Township said due to the current surge in cases, the district has extended its mask mandate for all staff and students K-6 for the first few weeks of class.