LIMA — Schools where masks are optional are seeing higher rates of students testing positive for coronavirus this school year.
That’s the message Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine delivered to high school superintendents last week.
It came as schools across the region began seeing a spike in coronavirus cases.
Allen County kindergarten through 12th grade schools have seen at least 92 coronavirus cases among students since the start of the school year, according to Ohio Department of Health data released on Thursday.
In Putnam County, K-12 schools have reported at least 29 student cases, while Auglaize County schools have seen 22 students test positive for coronavirus thus far, ODH data show.
Parents in Ada schools have been informed that starting Monday, it will be mandating that masks be required while riding the bus because so many students are catching the coronavirus. The district also unveiled safety thresholds to determine when masking, remote learning and enhanced social distancing will be implemented to mitigate virus outbreaks. It is following a similar model introduced by Shawnee schools earlier this year.
The rapid increase in coronavirus cases among school-age children compelled Allen County Public Health to issue a mask advisory for all adults and children age 2 and older on Friday. The advisory urges residents to wear masks in public indoor places and crowded outdoor settings, including schools and businesses where masks are not formally required.
DeWine and the Ohio Children’s Hospitals Association urged superintendents and school boards to require masks in K-12 buildings, citing the rapid rise of new coronavirus cases among children and adolescents since the start of the new school year.
Nearly 30,000 school-age children have tested positive for COVID-19 since mid-August, representing a 198% increase in cases, according to ODH.
Children and adolescents are now twice as likely to develop COVID-19 than the general population, accounting for roughly 25% of new coronavirus cases detected in September.
“For a long time, COVID-19 was perceived as a disease that didn’t impact children,” said Debbie Feldman, president and CEO of Dayton Children’s Hospital. “That’s not the case anymore. Today, 25% of COVID-19 cases are in kids. We’re feeling that in our children’s hospitals.”
School districts where masks are optional are seeing higher rates of child coronavirus cases (945.7 cases per 100,000 people) and greater weekly increases in cases than school districts that require masks for all or some students.
“If we want our schools to stay open, the best way to do that is for those 12 and over to get vaccinated,” DeWine said. “But because those under 12 are still too young to be vaccinated, we need students who come in to school to wear a mask until we get through this.”
To date, 1,500 Ohio children have been hospitalized and 10 have died due to COVID-19.