COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio’s K-12 schools saw one of their best weeks of new COVID-19 infections this past week, reporting 3,735 cases to the Ohio Department of Health on Thursday.

Although the week’s cases are slightly higher than last week’s 3,460, they’re only the second-smallest weekly increase this school year since NBC4 began tracking in September.

Like with Ohio’s cases overall, those reported among school students and staff have dropped dramatically since a peak in January. Just a month ago, schools reported 23,354 new cases, more than six times higher than Thursday’s count.

The school year total now stands at 243,669 cases among students and staff. Infections were caught in and out of school, and weekly case reports reflect the week ending the previous Sunday.

Schools report cases among students and staff to ODH on Tuesdays, reflecting the week ending on the previous Sunday. ODH releases numbers on Thursdays at 2 p.m.

Case criteria

  • Full-time or part-time students and staff who have tested positive for or been diagnosed with COVID-19. Infections were caught in and out of school.
  • Staff members include teachers, administrators, coaches and support staff.
  • Excludes students/staff who are completely remote, but includes them if they were “on-site” while infectious.

  • ODH reports “new” and “cumulative” cases. Cases only move over to “cumulative” once the person is no longer COVID-positive. NBC4’s count of new cases every week reflects the change in “cumulative” cases. More info

    1,614 (58%) of the 2,769 schools, districts, private schools, vocational schools, preschools and other non-college institutions that ODH tracks have reported a case this school year. That’s five more schools than last week.

    The median number of cases among schools with at least one infection is 44 cases, while the median number for school districts is 204 cases.

    200,620 (82%) of Ohio’s school cases are students and 43,049 (18%) are staff members, which include teachers, administrators, coaches and support staff. Last school year, students were roughly 2 in 3 cases, and staff were 1 in 3.

    Cincinnati Public Schools, a district of more than 34,000 students, leads the state with 5,570 cases, ahead of Dublin City Schools with 3,833. Dublin is among five central Ohio districts in the top 10.

    ODH director: Local spread should determine mask policy

    All but one public school district is back to full in-person learning, according to data last week tracked by the Ohio Department of Education. That district is in a hybrid model.

    More than 6 in 10 public school students – 61.8% – attend a district where masks are optional for all students. That’s up from 53.3% a week before. 38.2% of students go to school where masks are required for all or some students.

    School face coverings continue to be a local decision, ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff told reporters Thursday, especially because the omicron surge has been improving region-by-region.

    “We are fast approaching numbers that I think will bring us below that 50-cases-per-100,000 that has been used for a long time as the threshold (and) the indicator that we're below a level of substantial transmission,” he said.

    Some northern Ohio counties, for example, have case rates that are 10 times lower than some southern Ohio counties. Infections are falling throughout the state, but central and southern Ohio are recovering later because the worst of omicron hit those regions later.

    “Whether it's a school district or a local health district that's looking at this,” Vanderhoff said, “the masking policy or the masking recommendations really need at this time to be a local decision, because the rates of COVID-19, as they fall, they're not evenly distributed.”

    Franklin, Delaware, Fairfield and Madison counties this week dropped from red to orange on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus transmission map. And most local school districts have eased or dropped their mask mandates recently as cases improve.