COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Many students will be returning to school Monday and health experts want to make sure educators and parents are doing everything they can to help keep COVID-19 cases down among the youngest Ohioans.

OhioHealth’s Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Joseph Gastaldo is concerned with children returning back to class, especially with the omicron variant’s rapid rise. According to Gastaldo, in the past 14 days, COVID-19 cases have increased by 80 percent and it’s only a matter of time until we see more.

“We have more football games and the Super Bowl coming up. We are naive to think cases are not going up,” he said.

One of the biggest concerns is making sure students can stay in classrooms.

“I’m a huge advocate for kids needing to be in school,” he said.

In an effort to help keep the school year as smooth as possible, the Ohio Hospital Association sent out a letter to all superintendents and school board leaders in Ohio asking them to consider mask mandates for students and staff.

Gastaldo said Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health are echoing that request, asking schools to mask up.

Whether vaccinated or boosted, health experts are highly encouraging everyone to mask up to help bring down those COVID-19 cases.

“What’s different today in January 2022 that’s different from last year is the availability of vaccines down to the age of 5,” Gastaldo said. “We also have home antigen tests and some schools have operationalized how to use them as a way to help keep kids in school.”

Gastaldo said the CDC has also updated its guidance regarding the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, which can be found by clicking here.