COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Ohio’s health leaders say they want to keep children in the classroom this school year but doing so will require everyone’s cooperation.
“I’m nervous — extremely,” said Qismat Zaahir, a Columbus mother of a 9th and 12th grade student. “And it’s not them because we can teach our kids all the right things to do. It’s just the environment that we’re in and who chooses to do the right things.”
Updated K-12 quarantine guidelines released by the Ohio Department of Health depend on the layers of protection in place. It recommends quarantines for exposure to the virus only if a person is unvaccinated and not wearing a mask or staying at least three feet from the contagious individual.
In those cases, the exposed person is recommended not to attend in-person class or participate in extracurricular activities. He or she could return after seven days with a negative test performed at least five days after the exposure. If the person tests positive, then they should isolate for at least 10 days.
The Department of Health is recommending that everyone in schools wear masks regardless of whether they have been vaccinated and that there is at least three feet between desks, among other safety and sanitary measures.
“Children need to be back into school, face-to-face. But it needs to be done safely with all of the layers that are out there,” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, an infectious disease specialist with OhioHealth.
Dr. Gastaldo expects the vaccine to be available to children as young as 2 by January. Until herd immunity is achieved, he’s urging everyone to follow a mask advisory issued in Franklin County, asking people to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
The advisory came after the CDC announced 90% of new COVID-19 cases were linked to the Delta variant, a contagious strain and one vaccinated individuals can contract and carry.
“Children need to be protected like any other person that has not been vaccinated,” Gastaldo said.
Several Ohio school districts are requiring masks indoors for everyone or select groups. Others are strongly encouraging their students and staff to follow the mask recommendations, but not mandating it.
Zaahir is hoping enough people at her children’s school follow guidelines to prevent an outbreak. She said she would likely return her high schoolers to remote learning if they were exposed to the virus, but plans to take every precaution.
“Better safe than sorry,” she said.
Many Central Ohio schools resume within the coming weeks. Most students in Columbus City Schools, the state’s largest district, will restart on August 26.