COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio children in kindergarten through high school will be required to wear masks if they return to in-person classes this fall, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday as he pleaded with parents and educators to abide by the state’s health orders.
The order came as districts with in-person plans are already scrambling with weeks and sometimes just days left to adjust to an unprecedented learning environment.
The mask order for students “gives us the best shot to keep Ohio’s kids and educators safe and physically in school,” DeWine said during his briefing Tuesday.
New cases in Ohio remain high, with 1,143 reported Tuesday, up from over 900 on Monday, marking a 21-day daily case average of 1,291.
The exceptions to the order include children with any medical or psychological conditions like autism that make wearing a facial covering difficult or not possible.
“We all are trying to bring certainty to something we quite candidly cannot bring certainty to,” DeWine said. “We cannot know what the next three weeks will bring let alone for the next three months or six months or nine months of school.”
DeWine believes, similarly to the statewide mask orders, there needs to be a localized approach to the reopening of schools, as each district “faces a new reality.”
Health officials believe community spread in individual school districts will dictate the outbreaks their schools will face.
The state plans to deliver 2 million masks given by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to regional education service centers, which will distribute to schools across the state, DeWine said.
PLACES OF WORSHIP
DeWine laid out the contents of a letter he plans to send to the state’s faith-based communities, urging them to practice social distancing and wearing of masks while congregating at churches, synagogues and mosques.
The governor pointed to a recent, single incident where 91 people tested positive after attending a church service.
“It spread like wildfire,” DeWine added.
MULTI-STATE TESTING AGREEMENT
DeWine also announced Ohio will be joining five other states “to work together” in a bipartisan, interstate compact to expand rapid detection testing as nationwide testing shortages and delays continue.
The first-of-its-kind agreement with Maryland, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Virginia was announced Tuesday as each state is trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The agreement between the states is an effort to demonstrate to private manufacturers the need for scaling up production of rapid point-of-care antigen testing, which are simpler, faster and less expensive than the current testing model, DeWine said.
“Time is of the essence,” the governor noted about the demand for faster testing in Ohio as the number of daily cases have been pushing 1,000 for weeks.
The agreement was made in a compact with the Rockefeller Foundation, which plans to facilitate financing mechanisms that can support such a testing system.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.