COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Columbus Public Health and Franklin County Public Health are recommending universal mask-wearing to begin the school year.
They released their recommendation Wednesday morning. It is a recommendation and not a mandate like was in place last school year.
“Both health departments strongly recommend schools follow CDC guidance and adopt universal masking policies for all students, teachers and staff regardless of their vaccination status,” a joint statement reads. “Because the Delta variant spreads so quickly, these strategies to reduce transmission in schools are critically important to protect students, teachers, staff and communities.”
The recommendation comes one day after the state Department of Health released its COVID-19 guidance to start the school year. It strongly recommended masks for those who are not vaccinated, in addition to encouraging vaccinations for those who are eligible and various sanitary measures. The state guidelines left in place quarantining policies from last school year, but only for those who are not vaccinated.
“We really went off of two ideas, first is how do we keep our kids in school, and second how do we keep the virus from spreading,” said Joe Mazzola, commissioner for Franklin County Public Health.
The Ohio Education Association released a statement Wednesday morning that largely supported the state guidelines and warned against political interference in enacting them.
“The best way to ensure a safe return to in-person learning this fall is to follow the science and listen to the medical experts,” OEA President Scott DiMauro. “We can’t let politicians substitute their political ambitions for public safety when our kids’ health and safety are at stake.”
The statement from the health departments noted that it is not making mask-wearing an order because of a bill passed into law by the General Assembly earlier this year over a veto by Gov. Mike DeWine. The law limits the ability of health departments to set long-standing orders.
“Due to the limitations Senate Bill 22 has placed on local public health,” the statement reads, “these are not orders but are data-driven and science-based recommendations and they follow CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.
“The final decision is made by the governing body of each district.”
DeWine noted that when asked about the joint recommendation during an appearance at Ohio State University.
“I think it’s important to remember that last year we didn’t see much spread in school, but the reason we didn’t see much spread in the classroom is because everyone was wearing a mask,” he said. “This year, that decision is going to be up to each individual school district.”
Columbus City Schools decided last week that it would require masking for all students and staff to begin the year.
Here is the full statement:
Franklin County Public Health and Columbus Public Health Statement Recommending Universal Masking in K-12 Schools
As K-12 schools prepare to start the new school year, Franklin County Public Health (FCPH) and Columbus Public Health (CPH) support full in-person learning. To facilitate and maximize keeping our students safe in the classroom, while also minimizing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, both health departments strongly recommend schools follow CDC guidance and adopt universal masking policies for all students, teachers and staff regardless of their vaccination status.
Our fight against COVID-19 is not over. COVID-19 variants have emerged that increase the risk of transmission and result in worsening illness. The Delta variant is rapidly becoming the dominant strain in Ohio. Because the Delta variant spreads so quickly, these strategies to reduce transmission in schools are critically important to protect students, teachers, staff and communities.
It is proven that masking reduces transmission of the virus which causes COVID-19 and it also protects those who are not vaccinated. Because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and as a county only half of our community is vaccinated, universal masking will add another layer of protection to keep our children in school.
Schools should continue to take a multi-pronged, layered approach to protect students, teachers and staff. Hand washing and sanitizing continue to be important tools in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Everyone should practice hand washing and proper respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes) to keep from getting and spreading COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Additional recommended layers of protection include good ventilation and maintaining at least three feet of social distance between students.
Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Your local public health departments continue to urge all eligible individuals to be vaccinated as soon as possible. Locate a vaccine at gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov.
Due to the limitations Senate Bill 22 has placed on local public health, these are not orders but are data-driven and science-based recommendations and they follow CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. The final decision is made by the governing body of each district.
FCPH and CPH will continue to work closely with local schools to monitor the situation and provided updated recommendations as appropriate.