MASON, Ohio — Schools in Warren County could soon be the first Ohio to test out new quarantine procedures.
Under the tentative plan, students found in close contact with a positive case would be allowed to stay in class rather than quarantine at home.
"We have the balance of keeping kids safe, but we also have the balance of trying to keep our schools open," said Greg Sears, superintendent at Kings Local Schools.
State health leaders still are finalizing details for the pilot program as school districts such as Kings Local School adopt mask mandates for their pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade classes.
Sears said that the school has seen about 300 students test positive for COVID-19 or enter quarantine in the last week. Those numbers were not enough to close the school but have prompted it and other Warren County schools to re-evaluate quarantine policies.
"Our main focus is to have our students in school everyday," Sears said. "It's been our focus from day one."
Jonathan Cooper, superintendent of Mason City Schools, agreed.
"We do not want to send healthy kids home who are going to be socially isolated and they don't need to be home," he said.
On Monday, each Warren County school district signed a letter addressed to Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health that suggested children who are not vaccinated or wearing masks be able to stay in school with additional COVID-19 testing.
The suggestion would be to change current guidelines that require children to quarantine at home if they come into close contact with someone infected with the virus.
DeWine, in turn, said he is willing to work with the Ohio Department of Health to create a pilot program to make the changes possible in Warren County.
"Keep that child in school," DeWine recently said. "The child would have to wear a mask, the child who had been exposed, for a limited period of time and then that child would be tested on two different occasions."
Schools would provide the additional COVID testing under the modified plan for free. Parents or guardians also would need to decide whether to have their students participate in the pilot program.
"We believe this option will provide an appropriate level of choice for parents," Sears said.
And while the pilot program also would help state health officials gather data to guide future quarantine policy, DeWine and local health leaders continue to push for every school to universally require masks.
"But clearly, what we could say a year ago, that kids weren't getting sick from COVID, we can no longer say that," said Dr. Hector Wong, ICU physician and head of critical care at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.