COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine strongly urged Tuesday that schoolchildren continue wearing masks in school at least for the beginning of the academic year to avert more drastic coronavirus measures, such as quarantines or a return to online learning.
DeWine said the state doesn’t have experience with children in classes without masks, and said kids can’t afford another year without in-person schooling.
“The best way to make sure a child can stay in school and not have his or her classes interrupted is for that child to be vaccinated,” DeWine said during a news conference. “If that child cannot be vaccinated, the best way to ensure a good school year for that child, is for that child to wear a mask while in class.”
A few minutes later, he added: “Or having everybody in class wear a mask, that’s how we slow this down. That’s how we keep kids in the classroom.”
The Republican governor noted that the 3,235 coronavirus cases reported Tuesday, along with 1,571 hospitalizations, are the highest since February.
School mask mandates vary widely across Ohio. Columbus, the largest district with about 50,000 students, is requiring them, as are Cincinnati and Cleveland schools, at least for the beginning of the year.
Upper Arlington schools in suburban Columbus is requiring masks for K-8 students and staffers and recommending them for higher grades. Hudson schools in suburban Akron are encouraging masks but not mandating them.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio rose over the past two weeks from 1,197.43 per day on Aug. 1 to 2,567.71 per day on Aug. 15, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
The number of patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, on intensive units, and requiring a ventilator, have all increased over the past two weeks, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
DeWine said “we’re clearly past the time” when the state can tell schools what to do, referring to fellow Republican lawmakers’ vote earlier this year restricting the state’s ability to respond to emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic with statewide mandates like mask requirements and shut-down orders.
DeWine vetoed the measure, but lawmakers overrode him.
Pending GOP bills would ban public and private employers from mandating vaccines of any type, and would forbid school districts from issuing mask mandates. DeWine said it would be “very, very serious mistake” to pass such bills.