by J.D. Davidson
Saying he does not believe he has the authority to mandate masks in Ohio public schools, Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday turned that decision over to local school boards and parents.
DeWine, along with other state health officials and physicians, almost pleaded with parents to either have their children vaccinated or wear masks as the beginning of the school year draws near and a new COVID-19 variant is causing increased infections.
“I do not believe I have the ability today to mandate [masks in schools]. There is not the appetite in this state for that kind of a mandate,” DeWine said. “We are at a point in the pandemic where information is out there but these decisions must be left to the local community and must be left to the parents.”
Two of the state’s largest school districts already decided to require masks when students return to classrooms full-time next month. Columbus and Cleveland schools each made recent announcements that students, faculty, staff and visitors must wear masks, but Cleveland’s mandate covers just the first five weeks of school.
Most other districts around the state have made masks optional. Others are requiring them for students 12 years old and younger, and some are mandating them on buses.
School districts requiring masks have yet to announce any plans regarding interscholastic events, such as sports or other competitions that involve a district that requires masks and one that does not.
Health officials also encouraged, but did not mandate, schools to maintain other measures like social distancing indoors, improved ventilation and good handwashing.
Since January, 19,924 non-vaccinated Ohioans have been hospitalized with COVID-19, according to DeWine, while 205 who have been vaccinated have been hospitalized. Also, 6,812 non-vaccinated deaths have been reported, while 34 people who have been vaccinated have died.
“The numbers are stunning. We’re seeing them across the country. This is an amazingly powerful tool,” DeWine said. “I think all of us share the goal of having all our children go to school five days a week and complete the year. For that to happen, it’s very important that any child who can be vaccinated be vaccinated. I’m hopeful that this fall or early winter it will be possible to vaccinated children under 12 years of age.”
Ohio’s COVID-19 cases stood at 147 new cases reported June 28, with a seven-day average of 260 cases. On July 19, 660 new cases were reported, with the seven-day average jumping to 468 cases. The daily case count fell to 262 on July 25.
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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. He is regional editor for The Center Square.